The Voyageurs Cup - for most of Toronto FC's existence it might as well have been called the TFC Cup so often (four years in a row!) was it hoisted by our boys in red. But last season was a sobering crash back down to earth when not only did they not make the final, but they suffered their worst defeat in the team's short history.
This year's journey through the tournament hasn't been exactly sparkling. They limped into the final against Carl Robinson's Kids (give generously) with a poor performance followed by an admittedly very well taken series of penalty kicks, hardly showing themselves to be worldbeaters. Although every time the Whitecaps don't win the Voyageurs Cup - regardless of how that happens - is a delightful bit of business.
Last week's first leg of the final, at home, was hardly one to write home about either, resulting in a tie and Montreal escaping with a valuable away goal. Now there are two schools of thought on last week's result; for some fans it was a wasted opportunity to put the screws to a tired, limping, under-performing Montreal Impact side - a side that had no choice but to put out their A team. On the other hand, some will consider that Nelsen did just enough so that his A team was rested enough to concentrate on both the Trillium Cup and the Voyageurs Cup final. Going by media reports it's the latter, though we won't really know his true intentions until we see tonight's lineup.
This game is the second to last for Toronto FC going into the World Cup Break and the third game in eight days (for both teams). While Toronto still has a match against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, the Impact have a bye week and will not have to think about resting players at all. The question is should Ryan Nelsen pretty much forget about the San Jose match and throw everything he's got at Klopas and company? My answer? Yes. Let me qualify that by saying I don't mean he shouldn't try to field some of his better players on Saturday if they're still good to go - these are pros after all, they should be able to play a few games bunched together (*cough* July schedule *cough*) - rather that tonight's game is the more important of the two right now.
Toronto is starting to see some success in the league and still has significant games in hand over most of the Eastern Conference; in fact they've the same number of points as SJE having played fewer games. TFC still have a very strong hand to play after the world cup in terms of league and table position - playoffs are certainly not out of reach and with more than two thirds of the season left to play, there's no need for Toronto to panic - even a defeat on Saturday, while deflating, would leave them in a good position.
But the Voyageurs Cup brings about immediate dividends; there's the winning which is all kinds of amazing, but then the entrance into the CCL which brings the opportunity to move TFC onto a bigger stage - hey who doesn't love some more PR for both the team and the league? - and a chance to play opponents of a different quality and calibr. Plus, much like Voyageurs Cup games there is a different atmosphere around CCL games - they are very enjoyable to watch and as fans it's often some of the best times that you can have at BMO. But first, TFC have to win!
Regardless of rested or non-rested players tonight's match won't be easy. TFC is still missing a good chunk of it's midfield with Michael Bradley away, Bradley Orr injured and Collen Warner cup-tied. So umm, Kyle Bekker come on down? Or does Jeremy Hall get another chance? I doubt it as he was clearly not effective last week. I expect Bekker, Jonathan Osorio and Jackson - as for the other wing? Well, Alvaro Rey had a nightmare game last week and didn't play on Saturday, whereas Dan Lovitz had a decent time on Wednesday and rebounded in Saturday's game to finish strong. I still think it's Rey that gets the start with Lovitz waiting to come in for the sub.
Look for Stephen (wacky waving inflatable tube arm man) Caldwell to play with the usual suspects at the back and then really it's who starts up top? DeRo had a very good game on Wednesday and on Saturday as a wily sub and Gilberto is fresh having only played the last 25 minutes on Saturday. The influence of both players as game changers (especially Ol' Gil) on Saturday shouldn't be overlooked, nor does what appears to be a growing partnership between the two players. But of course who doesn't want to see Jermain Defoe start? Let's get some goals early and not have to scramble in this one, yes?
Because as I mentioned, the Impact don't have to rest anyone with an eye to the weekend - Klopas can put out his best team which includes a well rested Patrice Bernier (isn't that great news?) Marco Di Vaio, Hassoun Camara, Justin Mapp, Jack McInerney etc - knowing that they can rest immediately after the game. It also doesn't help that the Impact somehow managed to beat the New England Revolution on the weekend and will have some momentum of their own coming into this match. Mind you they didn't win a cup like our Reds but still - good win I suppose.
Bottom line is that Toronto cannot be complacent in this match. While the Reds have had some success recently in fighting back in matches they cannot rely on this. Score early, score often, defend like crazy. Sounds simple, but this is our TFC after all - just please, let's not have a repeat of last year, OK? But this is doable folks, they can take this and bring the cup back home. So come on you reds!