Toronto FC head into Vancouver to play the first leg of a final, hoping to win the Voyageurs Cup for the 4th consecutive year, having defeated their local rivals, and with an 11 day unbeaten streak on the line. Heady times indeed for Aron Winter and his squad, newly shuffled coaching staff and all, in the context of this season so far, can they keep the good times flowing with a decent result at BC Place that gives them a chance to finish the tie off next week, and keep the season alive?
If you look at the evidence so far from the MLS season, with TFC at a record breakingly bad 0-8, and the Whitecaps sitting comfortably in a playoff position with 17 points, you'd have to say it would be unlikely, but hey TFC are clearly saving it for the cup games this year, and maybe they're just playing a really long game to absolutely perfectly troll Vancouver fans once again. We've already done the ridiculous win against the 'surrender monkeys' B team, and a lightning related abandonment and win the replay, what other ways are there to really drive Whitecaps fans nuts? How about be absolutely fucking terrible for months beforehand, and still manage to somehow beat them to ensure their name doesn't sully the Voyageurs Cup? Sounds perfect to me, well played Aron, well played.
It won't be easy of course and will be made harder by the absence of Torsten Frings (and Miguel Aceval. Oh No. Not Aceval. Why?) whose shoulder apparently hasn't reacted well to the decision to play against Montreal so soon after injuring it. Hopefully that won't be a long term issue that causes Frings to miss too many games. Richard Eckersley will also be missing after his red card, but Danny Koevermans flew out there and will apparently be good to go, as will presumably Nick Soolsma, giving TFC some sudden depth and options in the forward line.
Will this be another parking of the bus from TFC to try and 'keep the zero' as they seem to be calling it (if so, please have that conversation with Ryan Johnson ahead of the game so he's not as surprised and frustrated) or will they try and take it to the Whitecaps and snag themselves an away goal?
I'd guess at another very defensive effort, without Frings it will be a 4-3-3, but with a very defensive midfield to help out the defence. The defence will have one enforced change with Eckersley out, almost certainly he'll be replaced by Jeremy Hall, getting his first start after a couple of decent sub appearances. There should be no other changes as Ashtone Morgan is an automatic starter and after a very good performance against Montreal, there's a chance for some welcome stability in the middle as Doneil Henry and Adrian Cann should get another chance to show what they can do. I'm genuinely hopeful that they can become a settled first choice and an effective partnership back there, which is the one big thing TFC are crying out for.
In midfield we'll see Julian de Guzman who's been playing quite well recently, and Terry Dunfield in his first game against the 'Caps since his trade. They'll both be sitting close to the defence to help nullify some of Vancouver's attacking options, whether it's Eric Hassli or Sebastien Le Toux dropping back, or, if he plays, Davide Chiumiento. The attacking midfield spot and the forward line is where there's plenty of choices for Aron Winter.
It all flows from whether Danny Koevermans is ready to return right into the starting lineup on the BC place plastic. If so, he'll be thrown out there, and then the next question is what to do with Ryan Johnson. It can be argued that after playing every minute of the season and taking more than his fair share of kicks, he could do with a rest, but hopefully a week off after the Montreal game will be all he needs in that department. Koevermans will need all the help he can get against Jay deMerit and Martin Bonjour, both rested by Martin Rennie over the weekend in a sign of how desperately Vancouver want this The obvious place for Johnson would be out on the Left Wing, keeping Joao Plata as a late game sub.
If Johnson is on the Left Wing, then It seems like Eric Avila is now a regular again, and he'll probably get a chance in the attacking midfield position again, though he's been out on the left wing as well so could well swap positions with Johnson, probably depending on who Aron Winter feels is a better matchup at both ends of the pitch against Young Pyo Lee. On the right wing, well Nick Soolsma looked very dangerous when he came on against Montreal last week and played very well against Alain Rochat in last year's Voyageurs Cup final. He could start but that would be very harsh on Reggie Lambe who's looked much better in recent weeks, and is carrying some goalscoring form into the game. If I had to guess (and that's kind of the point of this article, so I will) I'd go with Lambe again, I think it's his job to lose with Soolsma ready to take over should Lambe's form dip.
That's what I'd go with, and as for style, it'll be defensive to try and keep Vancouver's attacking talent in check, while hopefully Koevermans or one of the other forwards can snatch a goal on the break, maybe even Doneil Henry from a corner kick. I think the game will be very similar to the first leg of last year's final, with Vancouver all over Toronto. Maybe this year, they'll get what they deserve with plenty of goals. I'm hoping for more good saves and shots off the woodwork keeping it tight, and I think we'll end up with the same result. 1-1, still all to play for at BMO, and plenty of 'surely we can't lose again, can we?' doubts creeping in among Whitecaps fans.