In just over a week’s time, a historic matchup in the MLS Eastern Conference final will begin. Never before has a conference championship been contested by two Canadian franchises, with a guarantee of one reaching the MLS Cup final.
Last season, Toronto FC was sent packing after failing to defeat the Montreal Impact on the road in the conference knockout round. Patrice Bernier scored the opening goal in that game, with Montreal eventually emerging as 3-0 winners over the visitors.
However, much has changed since last October, with both teams coming off impressive victories last week over the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC. Their latest clash is expected to be a close encounter, but one team will rise to become the champion of the East.
The ‘401 Derby’ has presented many highs and many lows for both teams in the past, so a heated contest is almost guaranteed on November 22 at the Olympic Stadium. What both teams possess right now are strong, in-form attacks, so it would be safe to assume that although evenly matched, the first leg could be a high-scoring affair.
This season, TFC have been lethal up front, with many key strikers and midfielders playing their part. Let's take a look at what we can expect from the boys in red responsible for goalscoring heading into the first leg.
Sebastian Giovinco (The Atomic Ant)
This one is self-explanatory. He is the forward that everyone wants, the go-to guy, the reigning MLS MVP and the man with the magic boot; expect Toronto to use Giovinco to his fullest against Montreal. No doubt, the team performs much better with Seba on the pitch and the free-kick specialist will be looking to add to his goal count in Quebec. Giovinco has scored four goals this postseason, with three of them coming last week against NYCFC. That puts Giovinco up to three hat-tricks this season, including the playoffs. Need I say more?
Jozy Altidore (The Juggernaut)
It’s incredible to think that just over a year ago people were actually criticizing Jozy Altidore. After this year’s performance, those questions have thankfully faded into the abyss. Altidore’s late and postseason performances have been absolutely tremendous and he has played a pivotal role for the club during Giovinco’s absence. Since his return, the two have been connecting well up front, both scoring key goals during TFC’s playoff run so far. Like the Juggernaut, when Altidore gets going he can’t be slowed down. Expect fireworks from him during the first leg.
Jonathan Osorio (The Hometown Kid)
The 24-year-old from Brampton, Ontario has really come into his own this season, establishing himself as a consistent starter for Toronto. Clearly the franchise’s most successful prospect out of their academy system, Osorio has been a pest for both Philadelphia and NYCFC this post-season. Scoring in both rounds, Osorio’s goals have come late in the game to make sure of victory and although they haven’t been the prettiest, they still count for one. Osorio is here to stay.
Tosaint Ricketts (The Super Sub)
There’s no better description for the Canadian international than ‘super sub’. Since joining the club midseason, Ricketts has cemented himself as TFC’s go-to guy in tight situations. Lethal late on in games, Ricketts often hasn’t received the start but has come up big as a dominant substitute, replacing either Altidore or Giovinco or combining with them. Often seeing action after the 75th minute, Ricketts capitalizes on his speed and finesse to beat tired defenders in one-on-one situations. TFC are in good hands with Ricketts up front late in the game.
Tsubasa Endoh (The New Kid On The Block)
Selected by TFC in the first round of the latest MLS Super Draft, the former Japanese youth international hasn’t seen much playing time this postseason, which isn’t all that surprising. After an impressive start to the season, Endoh has seen action periodically here and there since. The rookie has shown signs of grandeur, but there are still many areas of improvement required. Don’t expect Endoh to receive much playing time against Montreal, but he still has time to showcase his skill in the long-term.
Mo Babouli (The Other Hometown Kid)
Another addition from the TFC Academy, Babouli hasn’t seen any playoff action and it’s probably going to stay like that for the remainder of the postseason. That is no slight on Babouli, who would have to beat out the likes of Giovinco, Altidore, Osorio, and Ricketts for a place, all of whom been sensational in this year’s playoffs. Babouli still has much to learn, and will use this season as a whole as a positive experience in that regard.
Jordan Hamilton (The Academy Boy)
Like Babouli, the Canadian from Scarborough, Ontario has watched these playoffs so far from the bench. Both excelled throughout the academy system, but the first team is much different and they will have to learn how to adapt and find a role for themselves in the ever-changing landscape of Major League Soccer. Hamilton, too, can take positives out of his 2016 to better his career moving forward.
Toronto have much to choose from up front, but you can expect Greg Vanney to stick with Giovinco, Altidore, Osorio and Ricketts as his main men. These four have proven themselves as TFC’s most dangerous attacking weapons and are responsible for every single one of the team’s 10 playoff goals. If they can keep riding their current wave of momentum and avoid injury, TFC should be able to hold their own against Montreal.