Six months and 28 days after the Eastern Conference final, the Montreal Impact are finally returning to BMO Field on Tuesday night. This Canadian Championship final is one of the most-anticipated games of Toronto FC’s season so far, and not only because there’s silverware on the line.
Expect this to be an emotional night; it always is when Montreal comes to town, but there’s probably more tension between these teams than there’s ever been. Just as TFC fans found some catharsis with a win in Seattle, so Impact fans would love to get one over on Toronto. To rub salt in the wounds of last fall, Montreal also feels cheated by TFC’s controversial goal from the first leg of this tie last week, when Jozy Altidore scored with Daniel Lovitz down injured.
So this’ll definitely be a better ‘Rivalry Week’ fixture than, say, Philadelphia and D.C. United. Word is that BMO will be pretty full on Tuesday night, and it might be a little rainy, so here’s to a re-enactment of that night in November.
The nice thing for TFC is that they effectively get a do-over if they get it wrong here. Even if the Reds lose, Montreal still has to win at BMO Field again in August to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League. That’ll take a little of the pressure off Toronto, hopefully - though they only get one shot at the trophy.
Montreal stuck with their 3-5-2 (ish) formation on the weekend against the Columbus Crew, so it’ll probably be back again against TFC. The Impact played on Sunday, so they’ll be a little more tired than Toronto, who played New England on Friday.
Both Ignacio Piatti and Blerim Dzemaili played 90 minutes in Columbus, which is very good news for TFC. It’s hard to imagine they won’t still be involved in this game that Montreal values so highly, but they won’t be at 100 per cent. Matteo Mancosu also came on in the 54th minute.
The benefit of Montreal’s new formation is that they don’t rely on the counter-attacking game quite as much, as they’re able to play through the back a little more and can find goals in other ways. That said, it’ll definitely still be a big part of their game plan at BMO Field, particularly given how successful it can be against TFC.
The Reds should have a pretty strong lineup this time around, with all three of Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Sebastian Giovinco likely to be involved in some capacity. The only major player who is completely ruled out is Justin Morrow, who’s already left to join the USA’s Gold Cup squad.
TFC’s next game is Saturday in Dallas, so they’ll have three off days in between. The players who make Canada’s Gold Cup squad – likely to be all three on the shortlist of Tosaint Ricketts, Raheem Edwards and Jonathan Osorio – will be leaving after Tuesday’s match, so they’ll probably all feature for at least part of the game against Montreal. Edwards is almost certain to start, swapping into Morrow’s wing-back position directly, while Osorio could replace Marky Delgado as one of the required three Canadians in the lineup. The other will probably be Ricketts or Jordan Hamilton up front.
Toronto can relieve themselves of some later fixture congestion by winning on Tuesday and avoiding the August playoff. There’s really no reason why Greg Vanney wouldn’t field a full-strength squad, especially since it’s probably the last time he’ll be able to for about a month.
The way through is clear for TFC: win and you’re in. This is a situation they know all too well; unlike last time, though, even a 3-2 win would see them through without extra time. A 0-0 draw would also do the trick, but that’s a risky strategy to bank on at home.
Ultimately, the pressure is on Montreal to score early (which they succeeded in doing their last time at BMO), but they’ll be hyper-motivated against their bitter rivals.