Last week I said the two legs of the Voyageur Cup final were the most important games of the season, probably for both teams. The first leg didn't really solve anything, all that's changed is that Vancouver HAS to score, as a 0-0 tie will see Toronto FC win, and any tie with more than 1 goal will be good enough for Vancouver to claim the trophy for the first time in their history. Aside from that, it's basically now down to one game, 90 minutes, maybe extra time, maybe even penalties, winner takes all, no second chances, a real cup final. So crank up the hype machine as far it goes for Canadian soccer, let's say 'pre-season Leafs game' level, and let's see what happens, because now THIS, all by itself is the most important game of the season, that Voyageur's Cup will be handed out to someone.
A tie in the away leg, and with a valuable away goal as well means on paper at least TFC has the advantage. However Bmo Field hasn't exactly been a fortress this year, and TFC's lack of rest should negate any homefield advantage to be found, especially with the Whitecaps not having a league game and thus being able to rest since the first leg.
How will the game go down? Well, if the Whitecaps can dominate as they did in the second half last week, then surely there's no way TFC can avoid defeat a second time. How can TFC avoid that happening? I'll get into that after the jump.
It's fairly established who the current TFC first team is, so I'd expect the only thing to stop Aron Winter from naming the same eleven who started the first leg is the injuries picked up in that game by Tony Tchani and Jacob Peterson. Neither of them were fit enough to even make the bench in Colorado, even though that meant TFC only had 6 subs, and though there's no information about this sort of thing given out by the club, I'd say that's a good sign that they won't be fit to start on Wednesday either.
Mikael Yourassowsky had a good game against Colorado, linking well with both Joao Plata and Javier Martina, so I'd have no hesitation in putting him in midfield again on the left side. I wasn't as impressed with Alen Stevanovic, if either of Tchani and Peterson are available, he's the one I'd expect to make way, but otherwise I think he'll retain his spot, while Julian de Guzman will replace Nathan Sturgis in the Defensive Midfield spot just in front of the defence. Whatever happens, they should perform better than last week when youngsters Oscar Cordon and Matt Gold were called on to replace Tchani and Peterson.
The defence has been working well as a unit recently, and with Danleigh Borman not expected back from South Africa, it probably will be the same back 4 once again in front of Stefan Frei.
Up front, Alan Gordon didn't make the trip out West for the games in Vancouver and Colorado, so I'd be surprised to see him jump straight into the staring line up, so I think Maicon Santos will return to the lineup, and Nick Soolsma and Joao Plata should be the starting wingers again.
As for Vancouver, well, all the stuff I said before the first leg is still valid. Eric Hassli appeared to be back to his early season form, combining power and good shooting with good movement to create space for himself and/or drag the defence out of position. That's a very worrying sign, Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams are going to have to be at their best to contain him, and Cann in particular has looked very tired and not at his best the last few games. Two games in a row now, there could have been penalties called against him for challenges that were in no way malicious, just a little bit too late.
Vanocuver were able to very effectively shut down Joao Plata in the first leg, but Nick Soolsma had a lot of room on the Right Wing and was dangerous all night, including setting up Toronto's goal. A contributing factor to both those situations is Davide Chiumiento being on Vancouver's Left Wing, as he isn't the most defensively responsible. Whether coincidentally or not, he switched wings almost as soon as Plata was substituted last week, so it will be interesting to see where he lines up, given that Toronto proved equally as dangerous on the Right Wing as on the Left. It may well be that they decide not to take defensive side of things into consideration, and just play him where he can do the most damage offensively, which to me would be as a Right Winger going against Dan Gargan, with Russell Teibert taking the Left Wing spot.
Without injury concerns, the only other change I could see Vancouver making would be to bring in Omar Salgado instead of Camilo up front.
I think the key for Toronto will be to get off to a good start. The Whitecaps haven't been a good team on the road so far, and have also had many games where they haven't got what they 'deserved' results wise. The longer TFC can keep them off the scoresheet, the more a sense of frustration and a belief that it's just not going to happen could creep in, and the heavier that 'never won it' monkey on their back will become. I'm fairly confident in that regard as the more defensive lineup, combined with a sense of familiarity from playing a consistent lineup has had TFC start well and look comfortable in defence for a few games now.
I do feel like TFC will need a goal though and that has me a bit concerned, as they haven't really been creating a lot of good chances recently. Apart from scoring a goal, Santos was very anonymous last week, which kind of sums up his year so far, and he'll need to be much improved to test Jay DeMerit and co in the Whitecaps defence. It's more than likely that they'll be relying again on inspired wing play from Plata or Soolsma, or supporting runs from Richard Eckersley or Mikael Yourassowsky to create chances.
Whether TFC score or not, and remember 0-0 will be more than good enough for TFC to win, I think it will be a nervy ending with TFC under a lot of pressure and needing to hold Vancouver off the scoresheet. Fatigue is a very legitimate reason, as this will be game 10 in 33 days for TFC, but TFC have been just hanging on at the end for a few games in a row now, and I think that will continue.
Hopefully they can hold on, as the Whitecaps are the only team I can see winning if it goes to extra time, and hands up who has confidence in TFC in a penalty shoot out if it gets that far, I know I don't. I do think they'll somehow be able to hold on though, and it will finish 1-0 to TFC, 2-1 on aggregate, setting TFC off to play against the Nicaraguan Champions for a place in the Champions League group stages.
Whatever happens, it should be a very tense night for both sets of fans, a great start to this years new knockout format, and another brick in the formation of a healthy and bitter national rivalry.