Five. That is the target for Toronto FC when they kick off cup play for the 2013 season. When Toronto takes to BMO Field on Wednesday night against the Montreal Impact they will do so as the four time defending Voyageurs Cup Champions and chances are they will not want to let that streak come to an end without putting up a good fight.
Come kick of Wednesday night the debate about what kind of squad TFC should field will be put to rest and things will get down to serious business. The simple fact is that no matter what kind of squad you want to see from Toronto in cup play the Impact are one of the clubs biggest rivals and if we have learned anything in recent meetings it is that these games tend to be very competitive.
A massive part of the rivalry between the two clubs was born from their meetings in the Voyageurs Cup dating back to 2008. The history has included the Montreal Miracle and last year saw Toronto knock off the Impact in the semifinal second leg despite playing with 10 men for much of the game. The cup forms the corner stone of the rivalry and Wednesday night will add another chapter to that growing book.
Heading into the game we do know that both teams are expecting to make some changes to their regular side from recent league matches. The two confirmed changes come in goal with both teams planning on using a different keeper from the one who has been carrying the load in MLS action. For Toronto that means Stefan Frei will be making his first competitive appearance in over a year. The last time he played in a competitive game for Toronto seems like ages ago as his 2012 season was ended after just one game, first by being dropped in favour of Milos Kocic, then by an ankle injury, and his 2013 season got off to a delayed start with a broken nose in the club's first preseason game. Frei will surely be motivated to come in against the Impact and show that he is capable of taking back the starting job which he lost to Joe Bendik following his injury. With Bendik proving to be solid over recent weeks Frei will have to be at his very best to even begin to push him for MLS minutes.
The Impact are also planning a change in goal as Evan Bush was confirmed as their starter for Wednesday night. It will also be his first competitive start of 2013 and he will be looking to show that he has enough ability to push Troy Perkins for some minutes in goal this season.
The Impact roster for the game will be slightly weakened with Matteo Ferrari missing out on traveling to Toronto due to injury. They do have their newest Italian addition to help ease the loss though as Daniele Paponi received his international transfer certificate making him available for the match.
Toronto will be dealing with a number of injuries of their own though and could be forced to turn to a patch-work defensive group for the second game in a row. Terry Dunfield is still a few weeks away from making his return while Darel Russell, Ashtone Morgan, Logan Emory, and Richard Eckersley will all be question marks for this game.
With the injuries starting to pile up Ryan Nelsen will be forced to make some changes to his preferred starting XI. The question will be just how many he is willing to make with the club in the middle of the three game week. He is not alone in facing that question though, the Impact are coming off of a bye-week in MLS but that is the calm before the storm for them as they now head into a stretch that will see them play a total of 6 matches over 18 days. That kind of stretch of games will leave Marco Schällibaum with little choice but to make use of his squad depth.
The last time these two teams met it ended in a 2-1 win for the Impact. That match saw Toronto FC fans break their own record for traveling support as thousands of reds flocked to the Big O earlier this year but they were left disappointed by the end result. That was league action though where Montreal has managed to have success against Toronto during their short time in MLS. The Voyageurs Cup is an entirely different proposition for Montreal as they have never beaten Toronto FC in this competition despite having met on 8 occasions. Over that time the Impact have managed just two draws and even when the Impact last won the Championship, in 2008, they did so without beating TFC.
It actually gets worse for the Impact though as they are winless in the entire competition since winning in 2008. They have managed 4 draws to go along with 8 defeats. Their last win in the competition was a 2-0 defeat of Vancouver back on June 25th of 2008. That means that IMFC are currently caught up in a 13 game winless streak which will hopefully continue on Wednesday night.
The two clubs met at this same stage last year and despite Toronto being without a single win in the league they battled to an extremely boring 0-0 draw in Montreal before things got far more exciting in the return leg at BMO Field. Toronto took the lead in just the 2nd minute through Reggie Lambe but then had to overcome Richard Eckersley being sent off in 17th minute. They barely missed a beat though as Ryan Johnson added a second goal before the half and Toronto rolled to a 2-0 win and a place in the final.
Chances are that this year will take on a similar feel to last year with neither team wanting to lose the semifinal in the opening game. Toronto will have home field advantage in the first leg but chances are they will be looking to play defensively and ensure they keep things close. That is to be expected though considering the fact that Toronto has also been prioritizing playing solid defense in MLS.
It will likely be up to the Impact to dictate the tone of the game which is something they did quite well when the teams met earlier this season. Canadian Patrice Bernier controls things from the central midfield for the Impact and has been proving in 2013 that he is one of the best midfielders in MLS. Toronto will be hard pressed to find an answer for him though with Dunfield out of the lineup.
The battle in the middle of the park will likely be key in determining this match as both teams have shown in recent weeks that they are more than capable of taking their chances when they arrive. If both teams do make changes in the midfield then the battle will be there for the taking but if the Impact who are coming into the game well rested, decide to field a strong lineup, Toronto's young midfielders may have their hands full just trying to get a hold of the ball now and then.
History is clearly on Toronto's side heading into this game and hopefully they can keep Montreal's miserable run going for one more year. The drive for five begins on Wednesday night!