Whatever happens in this year’s Canadian Championship, Toronto FC will remain in with a chance of playing in the CONCACAF Champions League next season. Their Voyageurs Cup win last season coupled with the continental competition’s reformatting, which created a lost year, means the Reds will contest a play-off match for a place among North and Central America’s top clubs in 2018 even if they do not successfully defend the trophy they currently hold.
If they are crowned Canadian champions again, that play-off match will be redundant and Toronto will take their place in the Champions League as expected. Whichever route they take, their chances are good; either the 10th-in-the-East Montreal Impact or sixth-in-the-West Vancouver Whitecaps will need to beat TFC, who have lost just once all season and lead MLS, twice in three games by some means or another to claim the qualification spot.
That kind of collapse would result in more than just embarrassment for the Reds; it would be a significant step backwards, or at least a delay, in what they are trying to achieve. There is a tendency to believe teams should win something domestically before they start thinking too much about conquering the continent, but MLS is not like European leagues in which the champion’s status is inarguable having accumulated the most points over a long season. Toronto know better than anyone that you can be the best and get nothing in return as a result of one 90-minute match.
No matter how good you are, luck is needed to win an MLS Cup. A lot of things need to come together at the right time of the year, and sometimes even when they do it is not enough. Building a team that consistently competes for the Supporters’ Shield, is the favourite year in, year out to win the Voyageurs Cup and takes on the cream of Liga MX with a fighting chance, though... there’s luck involved in the outcomes of those things, but not in the achievement of getting there in the first place.
That should be Toronto’s target right now; trust the process, as they say, and continue to create an environment of consistent excellence rather than chasing one particular result or outcome. There is no club in MLS today that has a more potent combination of the financial muscle and front-office competence needed to finally crack the Champions League, and when that finally happens it will be a huge step not only for the team responsible but the entire league.
It’s incredible to think about, really; a little match on a Tuesday night in Ottawa between two clubs with not even two decades of existence between them could be the first step on a journey to the highest level of club football (formally, if not by prestige) in the world.
Is it likely? Of course not. If you don’t aspire to it, though, what’s the point?
TV channel & live stream
TV: TSN 1 (Canada)
Stream: TSN Go (Canada)
Radio: TSN 1050 (Toronto), CFRA 580 (Ottawa, English), 104.7 FM (Ottawa, French)
Both clubs are required to field three Canadian players in their starting lineup under Canadian Championship rules.
Toronto will be missing Sebastian Giovinco and Nick Hagglund, but Jonathan Osorio could be in line to make a return after sitting out two games. Ashtone Morgan is also a possibility having racked up over 100 minutes across a couple of matches with TFC II as he continues to build up his fitness. The Reds are yet to release their Voyageurs Cup roster, however, so the specifics of the travelling party remain unknown.
Ottawa are missing Canadian international Carl Haworth as well as former Liverpool youngster Gerardo Bruna, who both have ankle injuries. Kyle Venter is day-to-day with an adductor problem while Steevan Dos Santos, who scored twice against in the previous round against FC Edmonton, and Ramon Martin Del Campo will be game-time decisions.
The Fury have played three at the back fairly regularly this year and could match up against Toronto’s 3-5-2 as a result.
Ottawa: Irving; McEleney, Del Campo, Obasi; Edward, Rozeboom, Dixon, Campbell; Sito, Hume, Williams.
Toronto: Irwin; Taintor, Hernandez, Morrow; Endoh, Cooper, Cheyrou, Edwards; Chapman, Hamilton, Osorio.
Subs: Bono, Moor, Alseth, Morgan, Camargo, Ricketts, Spencer.