I've said it many times before, the Vancouver Whitecaps and their inability to win the Voyageurs Cup and the increasing levels of crazy that the weird ways they've been denied inspire in some of their fans is the best (non TFC and non Canada related, therefore one we can all enjoy) long running gag in Canadian Soccer. Let's face it, though the Caps losing to an NASL team in Edmonton, or MLS' hottest of hot messes Montreal in the final would be absolutely magnificent, it's not going to happen is it, so it's up to Toronto to keep that going.
Can they do that? Yes, would be the easy answer as it seems that TFC will be putting out a strongish side that should have enough to get the job done in BC Place against what looks like being another young Vancouver team. It's a tough ask of course as Vancouver have been very good at home this season so far, and whatever team they do put out should really be going for it, but when TFC have thrived this year, (remember that time? it was a fun few weeks) it's been heavily counter attack reliant, so an opposition full of naive youthful enthusiasm that has to chase the game to score at least one goal should be right up their alley.
Of course, given the teams that were put out in the first leg, this tie should be completely over and done with barring a dramatic TFC collapse, but as we all know, that's not the case as that opportunity was thoroughly wasted last week, pissed away as if it were a Gilberto scoring chance. Vancouver had thrown out a bunch of youngsters to get some experience whereas TFC went with the whole bloody big deal. In the end, Joe Bendik had to be very close to TFC's man of the match, and 2-1 was a very fair result, one that leaves everything up in the air going into the second leg.
That last minute away goal from Vancouver could prove to be crucial and really sets the tie up to be an exciting one. There are pluses and minuses to the away goal rule, but one thing it can do is add a whole extra level of excitement to a game by more or less taking out the possibility of a tie. As the game starts, TFC are winning, but Vancouver only need one goal to take the lead as opposed to the usual 2 needed to move from winning to losing. One moment of genius or one mistake can move a team instantly from losing to winning, something that was perfectly demonstrated by the second leg of last years final as the lead changed hands 4 times, The only result that would effectively be a tie and take us to extra time and the possibility of penalties is 2-1 to Vancouver.
At stake of course is a place in the final against FC Edmonton or the Montreal Impact (and I'd say the Eddies have a very genuine chance at a result there given Montreal's recent woes) meaning either side would be favourite to claim the CCL spot should they want it. So just how much are either team going after that result?
TFC, well reports suggest they won't be putting out their full on first team, but it'll be close enough that there can be no excuses or "yeah but"s should they lose. John Molinaro goes as far as to predict a lineup based on what he's seen in training and after talking to Ryan Nelsen. He could well be wrong of course, but it's a much more educated guess than whatever crapshoot of a prediction I'd make, so let's go with it. It does include Michael Bradley, who'll be off to the US World Cup camp after the game despite Nelsen's earlier tough talk about fighting Jurgen Klinsmann and keeping him for one more game. He hasn't been at his best since coming back from an injury, but showed at the end of last week's game just what he's capable of, starting and finishing the move for TFC's 2nd goal in a very Yaya Toure-esque manner. It apparently won't include Jermain Defoe, resting up for all the upcoming league games he'll be very much available for, with new signing Luke Moore apparently set to make his debut up front alongside Ol' Gil who really needs a goal in this one.
In midfield, well there's all sorts of good news for fans of winning as well as playing the Canadian Kids. First up, Jonathan Osorio is fit again so he'll be out there, on one of the wings along with fellow Canadian Issey Nakajima-Farran, with yet another Canadian Kid Kyle Bekker partnering Bradley in the middle.
In defence, Regular first team Canadian Kid Doneil Henry will be out there, and he'll apparently be joined by Canadian Kid Ashtone Morgan, making his first start of the season, hopefully with something to prove. Bradley Orr's going to be partnering Henry in the middle, with Nick Hagglund at right back (for realsies this time, promise!). Joe Bendik will again be in goal.
As for Vancouver, well somewhere Teitur Thordarsen is quietly fuming in disbelief, and presumably all their fans are once again getting outraged and printing up a fresh batch of surrender monkey t shirts, as it looks like once again a team will be putting the 'Caps chances at risk by not playing their first team, even though unlike the Impact in 2009, this team do actually have something to play for. For shame, why they're practically taking a dump in the Voyageurs Cup itself. Of course this year it's ok as it's Vancouver who are resting players, giving experience to their young Canadian kids and all that so there's no shame there, it's apples and oranges. It would greatly amuse me if after all the complaints about the different ways the Impact (2009) or the CSA (2011) have screwed them, after deservedly and confusedly losing to the worst team in the world (2012, though with some help from that Toronto ref eh Martin Rennie?) and being genuinely unlucky to lose a tie they deserved to win (2013), 2014 goes down as the year they lost because of not really trying.
Carl Robinson wasn't saying exactly who his team would be, but did say he'd be keeping faith in the young players who did well in the first leg, and he did confirm it will once again be young Marco Carducci in goal. That young lineup did include Johnny Leveron, Russell Tiebert, first leg goalscorer Erik Hurtado, as well as Kekuta Manneh off the bench so even if he stuck to the same lineup, there's quality in there. A couple of the younger players, Froese and Bustos are off to a Canada under 20 camp, so there's room for good players to be brought in to replace them, perhaps Matias Laba or Pedro Morales, so I'd guess the lineup strengths will be more or less equal. I'd also expect a fairly strong bench in case the kids aren't getting it done and subs are needed to chase the game.
All in all, though over the two legs Toronto really should have won, this game should be a very close one. In the end I think TFC's one goal advantage will be enough, but it'll be a lot nervier than it really should, with quite a few scary moments for TFC, and just close enough to leave Vancouver fans realising this tie was there for the taking, ruing their luck, second guessing the lineup choices and thinking of all the what if's for one more year. Just as it should be.