With silverware on the line, today is the biggest game of Toronto FC's season so far. By the end of today, Toronto FC will either be standing under confetti at BC Place or answering even more questions about a season that is slowly going off the rails.
If the Vancouver Whitecaps overcome a 1-0 deficit on aggregate, Toronto FC will leave the west coast empty-handed, and out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. For a club that expected to be a contender in all competitions this season, that would be a sobering spot to be in as the season nears the midway point.
On the other hand, however, confetti and champagne can cure a lot in sports. A Voyageurs Cup victory would buy Toronto FC some more time to figure things out in a season that hasn't been kind to them so far. It would give the team something to point to as an accomplishment, and be a much-need midseason boost in morale.
This past Saturday's game against Orlando City SC was the culmination of everything that has plagued Toronto FC so far this season. They got off to a slow start, allowing Orlando to get an early goal and forcing them to fight back for the duration of the 90 minutes. When they eventually did, their hopes at a crucial away point were ended by a poor refereeing decision.
To make matters worse, they suffered yet another crucial injury, and will be without goalkeeper Clint Irwin for six weeks as a result of a quad strain. In his place goalkeepers Alex Bono and Quillan Roberts, who have played 20 minutes of MLS play between them, will be forced to carry the team forward.
One of them could be a hero by the end of today, provided they help the club hoist the Voyageurs Cup trophy when all is said and done. At the other end of the spectrum, this is a high-pressure game in which to make a first ever start. Bono didn't necessarily deal well with the pressure on Saturday while playing only 20 minutes of MLS action.
Toronto's injury issues don't stop there, however. Captain Michael Bradley will not be with Toronto FC for this match after suffering a knee injury at the Copa America. Steven Beitashour's status remains up in the air after the right back sat out the Orlando game.
Once again, it will be a cast of unproven characters that will need to get the job done against the Vancouver Whitecaps tonight. It has worked well for Toronto FC in this competition so far, after all, who could have seen Jordan Hamilton scoring two goals in his first ever start with the senior team? That resulted in a 4-2 victory at BMO Field against the Montreal Impact in the semi-finals and is the reason Toronto FC remains in the tournament.
All that's left in the tournament now is 90 minutes, with Toronto FC clinging on to a 1-0 advantage. This match will be Toronto FC's biggest test of the season. Should they pass, it would go a long way toward proving that hope remains in these trying times.
Projected Starting XI: