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MLS is Back Preview: The ‘401 Derby’ heads to Florida

Toronto FC looks to bounce back against their Canadian rivals Montreal Impact in group stage action

MLS: D.C. United at Toronto FC
After a disappointing draw against D.C. United, TFC look to pick up their first win of the MLS is Back Tournament on Thursday night.
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO, Canada—After four months and a couple false starts, Toronto FC took to the field against D.C. United and dominated...until the final 10 minutes. Thanks to the format of the MLS is Back tournament, though, TFC is already on to their next opponent: the Montreal Impact. Toronto will take on the Impact on Thursday at 8 p.m. EST (previously scheduled for Wednesday night) with both clubs looking for their first win of the tournament.

The first half against D.C. United saw the Reds play with some swagger and you would never have guessed it was their first match in four months. Bradley looked fresh as ever, and considering his extended layoff, didn’t seem to miss a beat. At the same time, TFC’s new Designated Player, Pablo Piatti, showed what he could do during his debut, Pozuelo was being Pozuelo, and youngster Ayo Akinola netted twice.

Vanney’s side will look to recreate that first half performance over the course of 90 minutes going forward. The schedule, however, will not make this easy. With their first game rescheduled twice, Toronto will now play Montreal on only three days’ rest — and for a club that has only played once since March, this might complicate things for Vanney and his staff.

Beyond managing minutes, what makes this even more complicated is that the latter half of the D.C. game showed Vanney that he might not be able to rely on his second choice centre-backs, Laurent Ciman and Eriq Zavaleta. Ciman was at fault for Frederico Higuain’s first goal, giving United a lifeline, but as a whole, the match turned when Vanney was forced to make a double change and replace both his starting centre backs due to cramping.

The Orlando weather plus a short turnaround may force Vanney to make some changes to the starting XI. Managing minutes, especially in a tournament like this, could prove to be the difference between a deep run and a quick exit.

The good news is that it does look like both Gonzalez and Mavinga will be available for Thursday evening’s game after Vanney told reporters on Tuesday that the two were doing fine.

Toronto will be without two of their regulars once again. Striker Jozy Altidore and Midfielder Jonathan Osorio both look set to miss the clash with Montreal. Altidore has been working to gain match fitness and Vanney is being cautious not to call upon his start striker too early and risk an injury. Osorio, on the other hand, has been rehabbing a quad injury and Thursday’s match will come too early for him, according to Vanney. Osorio will likely feature in the third match against New England.

On the other side of the pitch will be the Montreal Impact. Whenever TFC and the Impact face off, it makes for great viewing. Who can forget the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals? Thursday should be no different.

The Reds collected all six points against the Impact in the 2019 MLS regular season allowing the Impact just one goal over their two games. That said, the Impact did get the better of TFC in the Canadian Championship through a shootout.

After the first round of games in the MLS is Back Tournament, Montreal finds themselves at the bottom of Group C courtesy of a 1-0 loss to the New England Revolution. In that matchup, the Revs controlled the chances and the game. The Impact failed to create many clear cut opportunities, managing just two shots on target over the course of 90 minutes. The loss means the Impact will be in desperation mode on Thursday night as another poor performance could all but end their hopes of getting out of the group stage.

While Montreal started their season earlier than most teams through their participation in the Concacaf Champions League, new Impact Head Coach Theirry Henry is still trying to put his mark on the squad.

The addition of Victor Wanyama in Montreal’s midfield, along with a front three of Urutti, Bojan and Okonkwo, could keep the Toronto midfield and backline busy throughout the night. While the Impact offence faltered against New England last Thursday, you can bet that Henry has been working on tweaking the Montreal offence over the last week.

And while this match won’t decide the group by any means, a win for Toronto will go a long way in securing their spot in the knockout rounds.

Additional Notes

  • Great news as Toronto FC announced on Monday evening that the player who tested inconclusive for COVID-19 has since tested negative on two tests.
  • Toronto has now dropped points in two of the three games they’ve played this year, both while leading 2-0 (season opener vs San Jose was the first).

How To Watch

Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m. EST on Thursday, July 16, and those in Canada can watch on TSN. Jeffrey P. Nesker will have your Live Game Thread up right here before the match, so make sure you come ready to chime in.