In lieu of the usual detailed exposé, an alternate version of Know Your Enemy preview for Wednesday night’s (tonight) opening leg of the 2014 Voyageurs Cup Final, to be contested between Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact.
Regardless of the circumstance, whenever these two meet, things are bound to get interesting.
Sure, Montreal is down in the dumps – having won just one MLS match this season and just two in their last twenty-odd contests stretching back to the end of last year – and at risk of firing another coach.
And yes, Toronto has found the transition from basement-dwelling to life in the glare of the sun and spotlight a little rockier than they supposed it would be.
But this is the Cup, and form, sort of, goes out the window.
Until the lineups are released, one can only speculate: Do Ryan Nelsen and Frank Klopas go for it in the first leg, or do just enough to get through the match?
Both clubs have a fixture on the impending weekend – Toronto at home to Columbus and Montreal at home to New England – so there is no advantage in terms of timing for this leg. But Montreal does have the weekend off after the second leg, allowing them to focus their full attention then at least.
Neither side has significant travel to concern themselves with, so no advantage there, though Toronto has had an extra day to recover from their trip to Kansas City compared to Montreal’s disparaging exertions in Colorado on Saturday.
There is one player in particular whose inclusion will be a signal of intent from the Impact; he has been their best player this season – Justin Mapp.
Mapp did not feature in the away fixture in Edmonton, returning in the second leg to assist on Montreal’s first two goals.
With four assists to his name this season in MLS, Mapp has figured in nearly half of Montreal’s nine goals, and as he goes, so go the Impact.
That lack of goal-scoring has been an obvious drain on the Montreal resources. Jack McInerney has looked good since joining the club – scoring in both legs of their series with Edmonton, while Marco Di Vaio has yet to find his form of season’s past.
It is fair to say that much of Montreal’s problem in attack comes down to a lack of cohesion when going forward, often requiring a spectacular individual effort – such as Andres Romero’s consolation from Saturday – to find a breakthrough.
If Mapp is in the lineup, Montreal means business.
Regardless of who trots out on the pitch this evening, one undeniable fact is that Montreal has never won at Toronto.
The two have met three times at BMO Field in league play – drawing twice and most recently, in the final match of last season, TFC winning 1-0, courtesy of a Robert Earnshaw strike.
In the Cup, they have met a further five times since the tournament was instated in 2008, with Toronto winning four times and drawing another – back in 2008, when Montreal went on to win the trophy, beginning their magical run to the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals.
It could be said that the result in Toronto goes a long way to determining which team will move on – but then there was last season….
Foot to the Throat
When the two met last season, Toronto took the first leg 2-0 against a less-than-full-strength Montreal, on goals from Doneil Henry (a cracker) and Andrew Wiedeman.
But, as all loyal fans will recall, in the second leg Montreal came back with a vengeance, manhandling a flawed TFC lineup; overturning the result within 33 minutes, taking the lead in the 44th and not taking their foot off the pedal, racking up six in total, with the final humiliation coming in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage-time.
While much has revolved in the Toronto dressing room, there are enough remaining, including Nelsen himself, who will remember that embarrassment.
The lesson to be learned – aside from ‘don’t attempt to bunker with a team not constructed to relieve pressure’ – is that when given the chance to kill off a tie in the first leg, do so.
It would take a lot of goals, but if Montreal plays conservatively this evening, Toronto must make them pay for that mistake by racking up the score – four, five, six? Maybe seven just to be sure.
Give them no hope for the second leg – just hope they don’t make a coaching change in between legs for the dreaded new coach bump.
Given their poor league form, the Voyageurs’ Cup may be Montreal’s salvation in the eyes of their fans this season – remember how they reacted to Montreal’s shabby first leg last season with protests – provide them with a taste of the defeat that those few, brave Toronto fans who witnessed last season’s humiliation in person suffered.
Expect the Unexpected
But above all else, if this year’s rendition has taught anything, it is to expect the unexpected.
So far, expansion side Ottawa has given Edmonton a minor scare after playing them tough through the preliminary round; Edmonton surprised Montreal in the first leg, winning 2-1 and nearly did so again in the second, if not for a controversial (and incorrect) 97th minute penalty decision.
And Vancouver’s last-minute strike from Kekuta Manneh, very much against the run of play, in Toronto altered the complexion for the second leg, which, after TFC took the lead and erased the away-goal only to concede twice, required spot kicks to decide after a rip-roaring, tense affair.
Red Cards; Penalty Kicks; Fights; Flares; Rain; Thunder; Lightning; Hail; Frogs; Gnats/Midges; a Godzilla-sized Teitur Thordarson on the Rampage; Whatever… Expect it.