Wednesday night will mark the first 401 Derby of the 2017 season, as Toronto FC try to defend the Canadian Championship against the Montreal Impact. There’s plenty of pride at stake in this game, with the bitter rivals meeting for the first time since last November’s MLS Eastern Conference final.
For this two-legged tie there’s a different trophy on the line, and TFC will try to draw first blood in this week’s away fixture. The game’s timing complicates things for the defending champions, though, with an intra-conference home date against the New England Revolution falling just 48 hours later on Friday.
Toronto’s players and management have all said that defending the Voyageurs Cup is a priority for them. On Wednesday, Greg Vanney’s lineup selection will tell us just how serious they are about that. It’s very difficult to tell just how he’ll split up his regular starters between the game in Montreal and the home fixture on Friday.
We do know that Michael Bradley should play a role, given his suspension for Friday’s game, so that part of the midfield will be one area of certainty for TFC.
The Impact have a little more leeway than their opponents, with their weekend game scheduled for Saturday night in Columbus. They’re likely to field a stronger team; pride plays a role here too, as Montreal are unlikely to go soft at home against Toronto.
Montreal featured in arguably the best MLS game of last weekend, drawing 3-3 at Orlando City. Mauro Biello’s side tried something new formation-wise, opting for a 5-3-2 with Matteo Mancosu and Ignacio Piatti up top. Last time TFC saw them they played a 4-3-3, which let Dominic Oduro use his pace high up on the flank.
The new formation had varying success on Saturday; it helped spark Piatti for his best game of the season, but it also allowed Orlando the lion’s share of possession and left them disorganized through the centre of their defence. A lot of that was down to Laurent Ciman in the middle of the back line; the 31-year-old has had a tough season so far, and he’s struggled to keep up with some of the league’s top strikers.
It’s hard to tell what we’ll see from the Impact on Wednesday, as Biello has rotated his lineup quite a bit recently. Oduro didn’t feature on the weekend and is a notorious TFC-killer, so he’s probably a safe bet. As for the rest of the team, we’ll see how important this game is to Montreal, too. It’s possible that Piatti, Mancosu and Blerim Dzemaili all play despite their roles in Orlando.
As Toronto fans know all too well, the Impact love to hit their opponents on the counter-attack. These teams are very familiar with each other by now so there should be few tactical surprises, even if there are regular starters missing.
Honestly, it’ll probably be tough for TFC to come away with a win in Montreal. Their lineup will almost certainly be farther from full-strength than the Impact’s, and Saputo is always a tough place to play if you’re from Toronto. A draw, or at the very least an away goal or two, is probably the best-case scenario (thankfully, the Reds know how important away goals in Montreal can be).
As mentioned, Vanney’s exact lineup for this one is difficult to predict. We probably won’t see both of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore from the start, but Jordan Hamilton reminded us all of his goalscoring touch on Saturday against D.C. United.
Players like Jonathan Osorio and Raheem Edwards will likely be involved, helping satisfy the Canadian quota. Clint Irwin should get the nod in goal, too. Beyond that, it’s hard to say. In defence, TFC don’t have many backup options for the trio of Chris Mavinga, Drew Moor and Eriq Zavaleta beyond Jason Hernandez and possibly Mitchell Taintor.
Despite the schedule, this game will carry a lot of emotional weight for TFC. They’d certainly like to take the wind out of Montreal’s sails before the home leg next week. It’s supposed to be a rainy night in Quebec on Wednesday, so we’ll see if déjà vu can spark another strong performance against their rivals.