"I love cup games. ... As a kid growing up, you'd always dream of lifting the cup. Back in England it was the FA Cup-now that I'm here it's the Canadian Cup and it's just as important for me as any (Major League Soccer) game because there's pride at stake and a lot to play for,"
That's Bradley Orr getting an A for effort if not details with his post training interviews yesterday and really that's what it should come down to, forget the subplots, put your best team out there and try your hardest, this is the Voyageurs Cup dammit. But a) that's not really going to happen is it? and b) that would make for a dull preview wouldn't it? So, let's get into these subplots.
First up, revenge? That 6-0 hammering in last year's semi final second leg obviously doesn't sit well with supporters but given the amount of turnover, there won't be that many players who care that much so I'm not putting too much stock in that one. Just another game really, we all have to wear that one just as long as the Impact will have to wear 2009's 6-1, anything that happens here won't take that game away from those that actually care about it, the fans.
Tic Tac, Tic Tac, Tic Tac. That's the ever louder sound of the doomsday clock on Frank Klopas' Montreal career after a terrible start to the MLS season, already 4 points back of the competition in the Eastern conference, with reports of players ready to drop games to get him fired. Barely and disgracefully slipping by FC Edmonton in the semi final may have bought him a little time, but would hardly have improved his overall chances. Joey Saputo's post game antics and his earlier tweets promising changes, and of course his past history, certainly don't give the impression of a calm and patient man, a loss over two legs here just might be enough to finish the job, which would be rather delicious don't you think.
Will Klopas be looking at the Voyageurs Cup as the shiny talisman that can keep him employed for a little while longer? (By the way, Aron Winter says good luck with that!) If so, will that lead to a stronger than expected lineup for Montreal for tonight's game, or might they be hoping for a repeat of last year, just keep it close enough to give themselves a chance in the return leg at home. There seems to be precious little info out of the Impact camp as I write this, so I'm going to assume a few rested players, though I'd guess at a stronger team than Vancouver put out.
If that's the case, then it's an opportunity for TFC to go out there, take the tie by the scruff of the neck and build a commanding lead to take to the house of Cheese next week which brings us to the more TFC specific storylines here.
The quietest but perhaps biggest one relates to Ryan Nelsen's future. It hasn't been the most impressive of starts to the bloody big deal era and Nelsen seems to be getting more animated on the sidelines every week, whether celebrating goals or raging at officials, which suggest he's feeling the pressure of the different expectations. Just what exactly are his priorities, and probably more importantly what are the Tims' priorities when it comes to winning or losing this tie. Would a trophy be a welcome bit of pizzazz to bolster the hype and good feelings that are noticeably fizzling? Is the CCL a distraction nobody wants to deal with as they chase the real prize of respectability and a playoff place in the league? I'd answer yes to both questions really, but it's just a question of which one outweighs the other.
That will affect the lineup decisions and there's plenty of other subplots there as well. Staring in goal, there's no controversy at all, Joe Bendik's done very well since coming in to replace Julio Cesar, but last year and this, Nelsen has used these games to give his backup keeper a runout, might this finally be Chris Konopka's time to shine?
In defence, well Steven Caldwell's suspended for the weekend, so no reason not to put him out there for the first leg, but who's alongside him. Doneil Henry's adventures continued over the weekend, and judging by his reaction to the penalty and the goal, it's very much in his head right now. I think he'll get a rest in league games for now, with Nick Hagglund taking his place at least until the World Cup break, but does he play here, I'd guess at yes, and I think we'll probably see Ashtone Morgan given another run out on the left as well.
In midfield, well there's barely any options at all here as Collen Warner is cup tied (as is Issey Nakajima-Farran, who'll be free to spend the entire game glaring malevolently in Tim Bezbatchenko's direction), Jonathan Osorio and Jackson are still out as well, so it'll probably be Bradley Orr, Kyle Bekker and Alvaro Rey out there again, with oh let's say Dan Lovitz joining them because, who else?
Up front, Luke Moore has a knock that will apparently keep him out, and I think we'll see Jermain Defoe rested what with all the upcoming games, so that means another chance for Gilberto to finally get on the scoresheet, and he'll probably be joined by Dwayne de Rosario, himself looking to get a spluttering season properly underway.
I think the lineups put out will give TFC enough to come away with a win here, though I also think it'll be a narrow enough one that the post game fireworks and Just can't get enough pumped over the loudspeakers will feel inappropriate again. As is the case with any first leg, nothing will really be resolved, no storylines confirmed or put to bed, merely fine tuned and intensified before it all gets sorted out next week.