TORONTO – Another big night at BMO Field.
Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact will meet with the 2019 Canadian Championship on the line as the two brace for the second leg on Wednesday night.
Montreal hold a 1-0 advantage on aggregate following their win at Stade Saputo last week where Ignacio Piatti stroked home the game’s only goal in the first half from range.
Curiously, the two sides have only met twice in the finals before with TFC winning in 2017 and the Impact in 2014.
While Toronto go in search of an eighth title and fourth-straight, Montreal seek their fourth and first since that 2014 victory – they, however, will claim it their tenth Voyageurs Cup, factoring in the pre-tournament editions of the competition from 2002-2007.
“It’s always important,” said Greg Vanney on Monday. “We want to win another trophy, that’s the objective for Wednesday and we’d like another opportunity at [the Concacaf] Champions League, all these make it an important match.”
“We’re at home, we’re going to have a nice crowd, another big environment for us. And as much as anything we want to continue to build off of our performances in the league and the mentality this group is building towards the playoffs,” he continued. “It’s a final like any other: a game we want to go out and win. We have to make up a little bit after the result there, but that’s alright.”
Despite trailing by one goal, with road goals in effect, Toronto must be wary in their approach.
“Not ideal,” admitted Vanney of the situation. “We would have liked to have picked up a road goal because not having one plays such a factor.”
Should Montreal score at BMO Field, Toronto will then need to score three to turn the advantage back in their favour. If Montreal two, then Toronto four, and so on. Basically, Toronto needs to win by two; only a 1-0 TFC win will see spot kicks following the conclusion of the 90 minutes – there is no 30 minutes of extra time if the aggregate score is level this year.
“We’ve got to stay solid,” urged Vanney. “We’ve had a lot of moments where we’ve almost had shutouts and in the final minutes we concede one. As a group we need to stay really focused on our defensive effort, protecting ourselves.”
“I imagine they’ll come here blocking up, making it really difficult on us and trying to play off the counter – that’s a strength of their group. That’s more-or-less what they’ll look like,” forecast Vanney. “They have dangerous players on the transition: we’ve got to deal with them. It puts a new level of concentration because that one goal is a big goal.”
Playing on the transition, regardless of whether the game is home or away, irrespective of the coach or the balance of a series, has been a trait of Montreal’s in recent years.
“They’re coming in protecting a lead, so more so,” anticipated Alex Bono, who will maintain his spot in goal for the cup run. “They know if they don’t give up a goal, then they’ve won a trophy.”
“We have to push, they’re going to sit back a little bit. They’re going to have to absorb a lot of pressure from us. That’s the dynamic of one team going into a second leg down,” he continued. “We know what to expect, we’ve seen them enough times in the league and in the cup already.”
The deficit is not an issue for Bono: “The final whistle blew in Montreal and the first thing I said to the guys was, ‘We can take this home. We’re good.’”
“We play at home, we know what we have to do, we’re in front of our fans, in our own atmosphere, in our element,” listed the goalkeeper. “No problem, we can turn it around. Confident because we know what we have to do and we have our home crowd behind us, that gives us a boost. We have everything to play for.”
At the start of the first leg, the Impact came out of the gates particularly aggressive, catching TFC off the pace. Reinforced at half-time, Toronto tilted the game back in their favour, but it was not enough to find the equalizer.
That will have to change in leg two.
“The ball has to move a lot faster,” said Vanney. “The whole night everything was way too stagnant, things were too clear for them. We have to stay proactive. Any team that sits and puts numbers in their half of the field, you can’t be slow too easy because it’s too easy for them to shift their numbers and continue to close off lanes.”
“Faster, at times even more direct in getting balls into their box, getting balls into dangerous areas,” he continued. “Our energy and movement has to be better; the other things will come along with that.”
There is one element of uncertainty. None of Piatti, Bojan Krkic, or Max Urruti travelled to Los Angeles for Montreal’s match against the LA Galaxy on Saturday with playoff hopes dangling by a thread.
In the case of Piatti, who has been coming back for an injury-plagued season, sparing him the wear-and-tear of travel made sense. The other two, however, are question marks.
“Bojan came out of the game injured [before half-time] and Urruti ended up down at the end of the game. I don’t where [they] are physically,” admitted Vanney. “[The absence of] Piatti was some indication of how his season has gone and them prioritizing Wednesday, trying to win this championship.”
Montreal will also be without Saphir Taider, who will miss the final due to yellow card accumulation. The midfielder played a crucial role of shadowing Michael Bradley in the first leg, mucking up the creation of Toronto’s attacks at source.
“I don’t think they’ll change what they do. It’ll be next-man-up for them,” suspected Vanney. “He’s an important player for them: super-experienced, smart, positionally very aware, comfortable on the ball, very good passer. He brings a lot of experience to that group and leadership in the midfield, understanding how to balance off [Samuel] Piette. I suspect somebody will take that role, that responsibility, but we’ll see.”
One thing that is certain is that a Toronto-Montreal clash with something on the line will be a battle, as always.
“They’re a dangerous team. They can hurt you, they’ve got ability,” warned Bono. “They really came after us in leg one. We knew what to expect, how it would be. We know they’re going to come in and give us a game. They really want this. We’re prepared for it; we’re excited for the challenge.”