First off let us get one thing straight: the name of the Canadian club Championship is the Voyageurs Cup and after this point I see no reason to refer to it as the Amway Canadian Championship. It is not really that I am against the corporate sponsorship of the competition because almost all cups are these days and the CSA needs any bit of money they can get at this stage. I choose not to use the name because I appreciate the history of the competition and the fact that the cup was provided by Canada's official supporters group, The Voyageurs. So if the prize is the Voyageurs Cup then the competition should be as well.
With that taken care of we can now move on to the game at hand. Tonight Toronto FC will be at Stade Olympique to take on the Montreal Impact in the first leg of their semi-final meeting. The game will be the two clubs second meeting of the season and for Toronto FC it represents a chance to get some positive feelings back around the club.
Last time the two teams met Toronto turned in an absolutely listless performance in the first half and by the time they had woken up and started playing Montreal was already leading. Add in a Logan Emory sending off and a few Ty Harden errors and it was a comfortable win for our French neighbours despite a late goal from Danny Koevermans.
That game was with both teams playing close to their best XI so it would seem that the Impact are now the favourites heading in to the semi-final meeting. The question remains though of how each team is going to approach the competition. It is all well and good for both coaches to say they are taking things very seriously but you just don't know until you see the lineups come out.For Toronto FC it seems that the dutch pair of Danny Koevermans and Nick Soolsma will not be available just yet. Soolsma has remained in Toronto and even though Koevermans is training with the team he does not look like he is running freely or like he will be ready in time for this game. Saturday's game against DC United seems a more likely target for his return.
It was interesting to note that during the teams final training session before leaving for Montreal Paul Mariner took to the field to work with the attacking players. Mariner was a forward during his playing days so maybe his help can help provide that little bit of quality in the final third. TFC will likely have an attack featuring Ryan Johnson at Centre Forward and Reggie Lambe on the Right Wing, for want of better alternatives right now. Eric Avila had a great game against Real Salt Lake on the Left Wing, but at the same time Joao Plata always seems to save his best for cup competitions, and indeed won the George Gross Memorial Trophy last year as the tournament MVP, so there's definitely a quandary there. An obvious solution would be to move Avila to the Attacking Midfield spot, if that doesn't happen, expect to see Luis Silva there, all of this is assuming that Winter is serious about playing a strong XI.
Behind them though there is a lot more question marks. It would not surprise me to see Matt Stinson, Doneil Henry, and Logan Emory all given some involvement in this match even if they do not get to start. All three will feel pressure to perform and fight for their minutes with Dicoy Williams and Jeremy Hall inching ever closer to making their returns.
Aron Winter would be wise to give Adrian Cann and Miguel Aceval the night off as neither has shown the best fitness so far this season. If they are going to be used on the weekend against DC than using them now would be unwise. With little other options on the outside of the back line I would expect Ashtone Morgan and Richard Eckersley to both start once again. That would make for a very young back four of Morgan, Emory, Henry, and Eckersley which seems unlikely but Winter has been changing up his back four on a very regular basis so far this season. If there's any reason to see Cann and Aceval in the middle, it's the chance for a partnership to finally play a few games in a row to try and develop some chemistry.
The big question in the midfield continues to surround Julian De Guzman. He has seemed to be out of favour in recent weeks despite going the full 90 against Real Salt Lake. It might be wise to give Torsten Frings a bit of rest and start him on the bench but that would require a strong performance from whichever two of Stinson, JDG, and Terry Dunfield are started.
It seems that Winter has a fair few options with his lineup but the problem is that with every tweak he makes away from the best XI available the team gets weaker. If you choose to rest Frings and Cann all of a sudden the team is risking being a lot more questionable at the back end. Would Winter choose to start Emory at the scene of his red card ahead of a veteran option? The attack seems to be the only area with the fewest questions or options and it is the one area where I think TFC has the edge on the Impact.
This is a game that will likely come down to which team is more clinical in the final third. Both of these teams have their weaknesses and will certainly concede chances so it should come down to who can make the most of theirs. For TFC's sake lets hope there is no talk of sharpness or luck and that Mariner gave the forwards some good pointers.
At least in cup play history is on TFC's side. We all know that Toronto has won three straight Voyageurs Cups including 2009 when Toronto needed a massive win over Montreal to claim top spot. They got it, with Vancouver Whitecaps supporters complaining ever since, and have been Canada's top team since then, comfortably clinching the 2010 Championship before more contentiously beating Vancouver for the 2011 title. Add some good showings in the CCL including the run to the semi-finals and Toronto is a team that has done a lot better in the cup than in the league. For this game let us hope that continues, a win here and advancing to the final after next week's second leg, would do a lot to take the pressure off of Aron Winter.