Wednesday night Toronto FC plays host to Vancouver Whitecaps in the second leg of the final 2012 Voyageurs Cup.
Level on goals, Toronto with the slight advantage of having scored on the road, the tie is perfectly balanced for an attacking and entertaining encounter to determine who will move on as Canada's lone representative in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Does Vancouver vanquish those perceived injustices and achieve that revenge they so desire? Does Toronto continue their two-faced nature and once again baffle observers with their Cup success in the midst of unending league failure?
Answers will be had soon enough.
Less than a week will have passed since the two sides met in the first leg and as such not all that much has changed. The scouting report from the first leg still holds true on most accounts.
Toronto fell 3-1 to DC United at RFK Stadium in the American Capital; while Vancouver played host to Pacific Northwest rival, Seattle, in the first Cascadia Cup match of the season. The Whitecaps twice took the lead only to see the Sounders draw level each time.
Coach Martin Rennie tinkered slightly with the lineup making four changes from that which faced Toronto. Davide Chiumiento and Gershon Koffie were selected in the midfield - in place of Matt Watson and John Thorrington, while Darren Mattocks and Omar Salgado were started in attack - in lieu of Camilo and Eric Hassli.
Alain Rochat opened the scoring in the first quarter of an hour. Jay DeMerit rolled a ball up from the back to Omar Salgado, who had checked back, dragging Seattle's right-back Adam Johansson out of position. Rochat's overlapping run down the flank was well-picked out by the youngster's pass and the Swiss International charged down the space vacated by the undisciplined Sounder defender.
Rather than come across and cut out the run, Jeff Parke oddly let Rochat continue unobstructed towards goal, eventually placing a low shot underneath the helpless Brian Meredith in goal. It was a slightly odd goal; rarely is a player gifted half the distance of the pitch to trundle through before being allowed a free shot on target.
Vancouver was able to find quite a bit of room down the left side, Salgado was particular impressive, as he has been when fielded in that wide position. The Seattle back-line was very static and slow for much of the first half and had a lot of trouble with the spritely youthful attackers. Mattocks made several chances for himself, but lacked the composure to finish off those chances his speed created.
Rochat was once beat defensively for pace by Eddie Johnson, which in 2007 would not have been a surprise, but the current Johnson has laboured to find the speed that made him such a danger with Kansas City back then.
Seattle started the second half more brightly and exposed one of Vancouver's weaknesses - crosses from the wide areas. Just two minutes after the restart Fredy Montero played out to Mauro Rosales in space on the right, his out-swinging cross to the far-post was met by both Montero and Johnson, with Johnson winning the header at the edge of the six-yard box, sending it across the keeper under the bar to draw the Sounders level. Rochat was slow to tuck in and recognize the overload, while Martin Bonjour was caught under the cross and flat-footed, first moving towards the service, and then not being able to challenge for the ball. Ball watching, the failure to predict the danger men, and poor tracking of runs again undid the Vancouver defense.
They continued to struggle against sustained pressure as well. Joe Cannon was forced to make pair of fine saves on Montero to keep the match level. First, a neat nod down by Johnson to Montero in tons of space between the centre-backs and just yards from the goal drew a diving open palm save before a half-cleared ball put back in by Parke found Montero again unmarked at the left-post for a weak header across the keeper that was pulled out of the air by Cannon.
Vancouver was also guilty of granting far too much time for shooters at the top of the box, Montero squealing a shot on target that was pushed around the post by the keeper. This fault would come back to haunt them later.
Vancouver did go ahead in the final ten minutes on a play reminiscent of a chance in their match against Toronto three days earlier. A Camilo free kick from deep in the midfield on the left, curled ominously towards the far-post. Meredith - as was Milos Kocic - froze, wary of a touch by any number of attackers who may have gotten on the end of the service. Allowing the ball to find its way into the net, settling in the far-corner, where it had narrowly missed against Toronto.
Seattle drew level again in the final minute of regulation. A ball from the back by Meredith was flicked on by Johnson to Montero on the left side of the arc. The Colombian moved in-field, waited for space and placed a right-footed effort into the side-netting, leaving Cannon rooted to the ground, helpless. Bonjour, eager to attack the perceived danger, came across his fellow centre-back to challenge for the header, eventually losing it, while opening space for Montero to operate within. DeMerit tried to recover, but was caught off-balance as Montero cut back and released the shot.
It is demoralizing to be caught both early and late in the second half by equalizing goals. Perhaps it is a consequence of using a very similar lineup through a difficult stretch of action, switch off for a single moment and get punished.
Vancouver nearly conceded a winner to the Sounders in added time, a foul by Camilo on Rosales on the right awarded Seattle a dangerous free kick. Montero whipped a ball to the high slot at the near-post, which was met by Zach Scott with a free header, but was redirected wide. Eric Hassli did not pressure his mark when the Seattle defender checked his run staying high instead of attacking towards the ball.
With no injury concerns - save long-term knee surgery recovery for backup keeper Brian Sylvestre and mixed reports on the availability of Atiba Harris, suffering from knee pain - Rennie has the entirety of his squad from which to choose.
That being said and given the import of the Voyageurs Cup to the Vancouver franchise it is expected that there will not be many deviations from a full-strength eleven.
The projected lineup for Wednesday night has Cannon in goal; from right to left: Y.P. Lee, Bonjour, DeMerit, and Rochat along the back-line; Jun Marques Davidson holding down the midfield in front of them; Koffie and Thorrington playing slightly ahead of him; with Sebastien Le Toux, Hassli, and Camilo the trio up top.
Of some concern for Whitecaps fans should be the amount of football played by the likes of Lee and Le Toux - who have played every minute of every league match to date - while Rochat after a brief spell on the sidelines has featured extensively in the last several games. Rochat was slow to get up from an aerial clash in the second half, but did not require treatment or suffer any noticeable lingering effects.
Chiumiento is a viable option for a midfield role, but his precociousness in attack is paired with a lack of defensive responsibility. A limitation that will likely see him serve as a substitute, rather than a starter in such an important match.
Neither Koffie, nor Thorrington is set in stone. Matt Watson was selected ahead of the Ghanaian last match for his slightly improved defensive discipline, but Koffie offers more attacking impetus from deep in the midfield. Thorrington, is a bit of a mystery, favoured as part of a 4-4-2, he was handed a start in the first leg to mixed reviews.
Vancouver, as well-documented, has a plethora of attacking talents, some would say too many. But to expect either Salgado or Mattocks to be handed the reins from the start is unlikely; they could rejuvenate the attack from the bench if called upon however.
Etienne Barbara started in the first leg, perhaps in an attempt to catch Toronto out, having not scouted tapes from the second division as vigourously as they would have those from this season, which contained limited information on the Maltese forward.
Hassli, Thorrington, and Camilo all featured for less than thirty minutes on the weekend, likely an attempt at a brief rest for the three prior to the match in Toronto.
Defender Michael Boxall is unavailable as he will be joining the New Zealand national team in preparation of upcoming World Cup Qualifiers.
The Toronto match continues a trying stretch of nine matches in twenty-nine days; Vancouver faces another difficult away match on Saturday - in Portland - before the run ends with the International break.
When the sides met last week, Toronto took some time to settle into the match; whether that was pitch related or not, they must come out ready to play in the second leg. Vancouver is not the sort of team to play it cautious, they will start ready to attack, and an early goal would be unwelcome.
Vancouver themselves looked a little tentative at the beginning and had they been more clinical to the early chances that fell their way - namely, a few weak shots by Camilo in the first ten minutes that were handled easily enough - it could have been a very different night.
Jeremy Hall was abused by Camilo until he found his stride and Adrian Cann's Bambi-on-Ice moment could easily have been punished.
Toronto did find some joy lofting service to the far-post, either from deep or wide; attackers always seem to find space - both to deliver and receive - against Vancouver. Joao Plata was able to use his speed to get behind the less-than-quick Whitecaps back-line on several occasions, most dangerously when he was debatably called offside in the first half.
The nerves continued for both sides. A frighteningly poor punch by Kocic was eventually cleared; Vancouver flubbed a short-corner kick routine, wasting the chance and handing possession back to Toronto needlessly.
The best chance of the first half caught all by surprise, Terry Dunfield, of all people, found himself at the near-post from a left-sided whipped in Plata free kick, but his reactionary, bullet header would only sail well-high over the bar.
Cann found space for a weak header as he was backpedaling away from goal, but Cannon collected easily enough. Julian de Guzman found space for a shot from distance - as mentioned one of the weaknesses of the Vancouver defense - but sent it wide of the mark.
The two clubs traded chances before an early whistle was blown for halftime. Ryan Johnson with a fade-away header from above the penalty spot that Cannon was quick to corral, and Camilo playing Le Toux down the right flank for a shot that was parried by Kocic, before a nervous moment as the ball sat briefly untouched before Ashtone Morgan cleared and Barbara's follow up shot was closed down, eliminating the danger.
In the second half, Toronto got a little lazy. Their pressing became non-existent and Camilo got off another shot from distance that only slightly troubled Kocic.
On three occasions, Toronto sent crosses to the far-post, but nobody was there to attack. One of the issues with Johnson as the target forward is when he drifts into the wide positions as he does often he has no big bodies to aim for in the box. Neither Plata, nor Reggie Lambe are going to win many headers against centre-backs.
The introduction of Danny Koevermans for Eric Avila, the first of three very attacking substitutions, began TFC's best spell.
A long Hall free kick from deep in his own end was half-cleared by Bonjour to Dunfield. Terry prodded it forward to Koevermans at the top of the box, who dished out to Lambe on the right. Lambe ran down the edge of the box, cut back and laid off for de Guzman. Julian curled a right-footed cross to the far-post where Johnson beat two men to the ball and placed his header across the keeper into the far-netting. Cannon was helpless to get a touch. Bonjour was again caught under the ball and Lee, the full-back nearest to the play, did not even make a challenge on the play.
Toronto started to regularly find gaps on the counter, though Koevermans lacked the pace to really cause trouble when played in by Johnson. That space became more apparent when Vancouver brought Chiumiento on for Watson.
Nick Soolsma replaced Lambe, injecting fresh legs into the Toronto attack; but Vancouver's ball movement improved with Chiumiento in attack. Thorrington had the ball in the net - well after the offside whistle had blown, before Soolsma was able to find Plata streaking behind the back-line in transition, the chance wasted with a poor touch from the Ecuadorian.
The two sides continued to trade blows for the next ten minutes. Camilo's deep free kick whizzed by the post and Luis Silva - who replaced Plata - fed the ball into de Guzman, forcing an awkward collection by Cannon as DeMerit shielded the ball.
Hassli got in front of Doneil Henry for a weak header, grabbed by Kocic before Toronto should have doubled their advantage when Johnson lay an inch-perfect ball into the path of Soolsma that the Dutchman right-footed first-time straight at Cannon, who had come out, made himself big, and waited.
A few more chances came Toronto's way, including a scrambling defensive breakdown from a corner kick that led to two handball shouts in the box, neither of which was awarded, before the Reds started to give away too many cheap fouls in their own half.
Camilo curled a free kick over the wall, but was denied and held by Kocic before Vancouver found the tying goal.
Another cheap free kick near the halfway line on the left was played quickly by Rochat up to Chiumiento, who returned the ball to Rochat charging along the touchline. Soolsma tracked the run, but did not apply enough pressure allowing Rochat to send a cross to the far-post where it was met by Hassli, wide open for the leveling volley.
An unstoppable shot, one given away too easily. Morgan was nowhere to be found and Henry had let the big Frenchman drift off his shoulder.
The lesson of the first leg is that by switching off, even if just for a moment, can be costly. Do not give Hassli space and stay sharp for every ball.
Toronto will not - and cannot - sit back and defend their slender lead. It is neither their style, nor their mindset. They need to be smart, keep things tight at the back, but seek to get goals and finish it off before Vancouver can get a foothold in the match.
Toronto needs to take chances when they come, if opportunities such as the Soolsma one at the end are wasted, it could come back to haunt them, as it did in the first leg.
Vancouver can be guilty of being caught narrow along the back-line, allowing lots of space behind either full-back. Possibly a function of age in those positions, they can be caught by switching the play from one flank to the other, allowing time and space for unpressured crosses into the box.
Bonjour can be found rushing into plays a little too forcefully, being drawn out of position and opening space for attacks. On the other end, if Hassli is allowed to attack Henry instead of Cann the imbalance of experience could prove costly for Toronto.