Toronto FC head to the nation’s capital on Tuesday for their first clash with the USL’s Ottawa Fury. The Reds are looking to retain the Voyageurs Cup after winning it in dramatic fashion last year against Vancouver. If they do so, they’ll avoid an annoying play-in game for the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League, and qualify directly as Canada’s entrants.
This will actually be the first time TFC have played a USL opponent in a competitive game, with the pre-MLS Montreal Impact and FC Edmonton in the NASL and the pre-MLS Vancouver Whitecaps in the USSF D2 Pro League. There’s certainly no better opponent for the Reds to open their account against, as soccer’s Battle of Ontario will see its first top-level instalment (TFC II did play them in April, a scoreless draw).
So, what are we likely to see from TFC in Ottawa? Well, we know what their ideal scenario is, at least:
Vanney in Ottawa: "We’re looking to win the game." #TFCLive— Kurtis Larson (@KurtLarSUN) May 22, 2017
The Fury, coached by Kenny Dalglish’s son Paul, sit 11th in the USL’s Eastern Conference with a 2–3–3 record. This is their first season in the league having spent the first three seasons of their existence in the NASL. They beat Edmonton over two legs earlier this month to secure a spot in the Canadian Championship semi-finals, winning 4-2 on aggregate.
Last season, Ottawa gave Vancouver a scare at this stage of the competition, winning the home leg of that semi-final 2-0. The Whitecaps answered with a 3-0 home win, though, to advance to the final.
TFC, of course, played Montreal in the semi-final last year in what would be the first of two times the Reds eliminated the Impact from a competition in 2016. Braces from Jordan Hamilton and Jonathan Osorio led Toronto to a 4-2 win in the home leg before they played out a scoreless draw at Stade Saputo a week later.
We all remember the final of the 2016 Canadian Championship, of course, when Will Johnson’s 95th-minute away goal stole the victory at BC Place.
Ottawa showed the Whitecaps that they’re no slouches, so TFC won’t be completely ignoring this fixture. It’ll certainly be competitive, even if a lot of Toronto’s starters sit out.
The Fury have a few strong, tall attacking players, including striker Tucker Hume. They might try to play long balls and crosses toward him, which could give TFC some trouble without Nick Hagglund.
The Reds are likely to field a reserve-heavy team for this game, with players like Jordan Hamilton, Jay Chapman, and maybe even Ashtone Morgan set for an opportunity. It also looks increasingly likely that we’ll see an appropriately Canadian side; there could be as many as six in Vanney’s lineup on Tuesday, easily meeting the required minimum of three starters.
That’s not to say this will be a rematch of the TFC II game against the Fury; this is yet another opportunity for the Reds to show off how deep their squad is. TFC obviously want to make life easier for themselves by retaining the Championship, and an away goal or two in Ottawa would simplify things early on.
Drew Moor could slot in again to anchor the back line, at least for a half or 60 minutes as he tries to regain his fitness after sitting out for a while. Osorio is apparently available to play, too, having shown no recurrence of the racing heartbeat that saw him withdrawn against the Columbus Crew.
Michael Bradley might finally get a break in this one, although I have been wrong every time I’ve suggested that so far. I’d expect Benoit Cheyrou to fill in for him, as he did in last year’s Canadian Championship – I think Cheyrou wore the armband then, too, on his way to being named the tournament MVP.
There might actually be a better chance than expected that Jozy Altidore gets a few minutes in this one since he’s ineligible for this Friday’s MLS game because of yellow card accumulation. If TD Place had a grass field, I’d probably expect him to see a half or so just to keep the rust off this week, but the turf might rule that one out.
The weather in Ottawa is supposed to be pretty good on Tuesday, with a forecast for 18 degrees around kick-off. That said, it rained on Monday, so the pitch will probably be slick. It might be best to keep a tired Altidore away from it.
TFC are expecting a strong contingent of away supporters for this one; it should be a good night for Canadian soccer.