Toronto FC vs Montreal Impact: Eastern Conference Final Leg 1
Toronto FC vs Montreal Impact ~ Tues. Nov. 22nd ~ Stade Olympique ~ 8pm ~ TSN
These are heady times for TFC fans; after what’s felt like non-stop futility for close to a decade, the team has become the sum of its parts and are poised to head to the MLS Cup – assuming that they can get past arch-rivals the Montreal Impact.
This Tuesday – barring potential weather issues – TFC will play Montreal in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Finals in the cavernous confines of the Big O, with up to 2000 travelling fans (myself included) there to support them. We kick the word historic around a lot right now when it comes to Toronto FC, but this series is exactly that – for both teams – never before has either team, or any Canadian team, gone this far into MLS playoffs (how you feeling Don? You OK? It’ll be fine, really). It also adds another chapter to the ongoing Toronto/Montreal sports rivalry and certainly to the heated rivalry between TFC and IMFC. Emotions run high between the teams and the fans of both teams which always adds to the atmosphere and excitement regardless of the importance of the match, tomorrow night will be supercharged.
It’s difficult to peg a favourite in the series (*cough* TFC *cough) given how well both teams have been playing thus far in the playoffs, both teams have relatively healthy squads and both have something to prove – Toronto that their ultra-expensive roster is worth it, and Montreal that recent resurgence is not just luck; add in the lingering memories of last year’s playoff ouster by the Impact and TFC have even more motivation – get ready for a wild game everyone.
The Impact have a bit of home turf (pun intended) advantage with the game being played at the Big O; not because of the large crowd but because of the carpet that both teams will be playing on. Turf differs wildly in terms of quality from stadium to stadium and the one at Olympic Stadium has never been known as quality; while TFC did a bit of training on turf up at the KIA Training Centre, the Impact have much more game experience on the uncertain surface.
Expect Greg Vanney to go with the same Starting XI that he’s used throughout the playoffs and in the same formation. The 3-5-2 has served Toronto FC well and may be the best option for dealing with TFC killer Ignacio (Nacho Man – oh yeah!) Piatti. Piatti has had his way with TFC more than once and seems to be able to tear through their defence with ease – however they’ve not used this formation against the Impact this year and that may help then contain Piatti. The Impact will need to wary of Sebastian Giovinco who is on fire after potting a hat trick in TFC’s last game against the pizza rats. He’s seemed extra focused after not being nominated for MLS MVP this season – when the tiny terror plays with that chip on his should opposition teams should be afraid. The other lineup question is on the Impact side – will Didier (diva) Drogba play? He’s unlikely to start and will most likely be on the bench for Mauro Biello. Otherwise again, don’t expect a lot of changes for Montreal to start the game.
This game – hell this series – is going to be emotional, exciting, hard fought, wild and ultimately one of the best things you can hope for as a fan. And not just an MLS fan, but a fan of Canadian soccer – while it’s not two mostly Canadian teams, it is an all Canadian final and that will bring eyes and attention to the game. But as a fan? You really can’t ask for much more than this; a chance to go to the MLS Cup and all your team has to do is beat your most hated rival. Awesome. If you’re going to be at the game, get ready to lose your voice; if you can’t attend I hope that you’re watching with friends (and a few bevvies). See you next Wednesday when we (hopefully) watch our Reds advance to the Final; until then Allez Les Rouges!