A derby is a derby.
Toronto FC is braced for the penultimate game of the 2018 MLS season on Sunday when they square off against the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo.
There will be no playoffs for TFC this season, but there is plenty to play for through these last two matches. On the final day of the season, Atlanta United will come to Toronto with the Supporter's Shield in play, intent on either breaking or tying the points record of 69 that Toronto set last season – Atlanta enter their final two matches a point ahead of the New York Red Bulls for the shield and on 66 points.
Before Decision Day, Toronto square off against their rivals, Montreal. There need not be any additional motivation for this match, but a win could see Toronto doom Montreal's hopes of a post-season berth.
“It's another derby match against our rivals,” said Jonathan Osorio having returned from the Canadian national team. “No matter what the standings are or what the game means, it's a derby. You've got to win.”
“It's a game you always want to play in,” continued Osorio. “We're going there to win the game.”
For Greg Vanney, with Montreal facing elimination, it will be key for Toronto to match their intensity.
“The collective purpose to get a result has to be there. You're running into a team that is playing for their life at this point, they're at home and they're our rival. They've got a lot of purpose to play for,” explained Vanney. “We've got to make sure ours is there as well.”
Toronto took the last meeting between the two 3-1 at the end of August with Sebastian Giovinco scoring twice and Jonathan Osorio adding the third, all within the opening half hour of play. Alejandro Silva pulled one back, but Toronto saw out the result.
Montreal won the encounter earlier in the season 1-0 at Stade Olympique with a deflected Jeisson Vargas goal proving the difference – it was the first win of the Remi Garde era for the Impact.
Over the years, the two foes have met in countless exciting clashes; no matter the stage, no matter what was at stake. This one will be no different.
“These games tend to get exciting,” said Vanney. “It's like a knockout game in some ways: they need to get a win and they'll be playing as such. It should be interesting.”
These are the games for which players live.
“You play this game because you love it,” said Osorio. “But also to win.”
Garde's first season at the helm has been more evolution than revolution.
Having won just three of their first 13 matches, the coach has seen his side solidify defensively and string together results. Montreal has lost just twice in their last nine matches: a 5-0 dismantling at the hands of D.C. United in September and the August loss in Toronto.
“Going through a coaching change and a shift, they were trying to seek out what that identity was going to be,” explained Vanney. “As Remi has gotten used to his team, gotten to know his players better, they've reverted back to a style that has made them successful in the past. To what has always made them Montreal.”
“They're very organized, hard to break down, they do a good job of protecting their goal, they can hurt you in the transition,” detailed Vanney. “[Ignacio] Piatti can make plays, they have other guys on the field who are good soccer players.”
Piatti leads the side with 14 goals and 13 assists. Saphir Taider has chipped in seven goals and eight assists, while the aforementioned Silva has five goals and 10 assists.
“Every coach has his nuances, they've got a couple different players, but in terms of how they're most effective they're similar to the past,” added Vanney. “They're not a super-aggressive defending team. They reorganize and get numbers behind the ball, play for the transition moments.”
“They will seek times to press and win balls a little higher, but it's not their overall identity,” continued Vanney. “The way they rotate players in possession, there are some differences, but a lot of the game goes through Piatti.”
It is fitting that in the recent history of this season, the talismanic players have stepped to the fore. In nine MLS matches against Toronto, Piatti has six goals and five assists. Giovinco, in 10 matches against Montreal, has seven goals and four assists.
Michael Bradley, in 12 matches, has two goals against the Impact.
On the field, derbies can bring out the best. Expect no different on Sunday.
“It's always something you want to win, something special to the fans: they always want to come out with the W at the end of the day,” said Marky Delgado, fresh off international duty. “This season hasn't gone great, but we always want to come out on top in Montreal. We're looking forward to it.”