Hosts Toronto FC. National honours are up for grabs
The Impact heads into uncharted waters tonight when they face Toronto FC in the opening game of the Canadian Champions League competition at Saputo Stadium (7:30 p.m., Team 990, midnight replay, CBC).
It's the first game in a new double round-robin among Canada's three top professional clubs - the Vancouver Whitecaps complete the field - and it's the first time the Impact will be facing a team from MLS, the top professional league in the United States and Canada.
The winner advances to the CONCACAF Champions League, which brings together the top clubs in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
"The motivation will be high because it's a different championship for us," head coach Nick De Santis said following practice yesterday.
"In the end, you do want to represent Canada and go on to the CONCACAF Champions League where we'll encounter different atmospheres, different stadiums and different teams with different levels. It's very exciting for everyone."
The different levels start tonight.
The MLS is regarded as a stronger league than the United Soccer Leagues First Division, which includes the Impact and the Whitecaps. But De Santis believes his team can be competitive.
"A good result will give us a lot of confidence, saying that we compared ourselves to an MLS team and did well," he said.
The most recent matchup between the two leagues came this month when the Whitecaps beat the Los Angeles Galaxy and David Beckham 2-1 in an exhibition game in Edmonton.
But De Santis said tonight's result will provide a truer measuring stick.
"That game between the Whitecaps and the Galaxy was an exhibition game, and there are different motivations," he said.
"It's like when we played the (Trois Rivières Attak last week) and these are players who want to prove they should be on the first team and they're highly motivated," De Santis said. "For our players, it's preparation for our next game.
"It's like when we played the national team of Honduras.
They didn't take the right approach and found themselves down 3-0, and it was hard to come back. Hopefully, Toronto will come with that mentality, but I don't think so. Tomorrow will be a very good test, because it counts for three points."
Goalkeeper Matt Jordan, defender Adam Braz, midfielders David Testo and Pato Aguilera, and forward Roberto Brown have played in the MLS and have an idea of what to expect.
"It's always special when you play your former team, but more importantly it's a big game for our club," said Braz, who played for Toronto FC a year ago. "We have to get maximum points at home because we know it's going to be tough on the road. It would be an honour to play at a higher level."
Braz said there are few differences between the two leagues.
"The speed of play is quicker in the MLS and each team has a few key players who make a difference in games. In the MLS, if you make mistakes, you get punished. In the USL, you might get away with something."
Neither team will be at full strength tonight. Defenders Nevio Pizzolitto (shoulder) and Gabriel Gervais (strained quadriceps) are definitely out, while midfielder Antonio Ribeiro and defender Cédric Joqueviel are day-to-day with ankle injuries. Striker Roberto Brown left practice with an undisclosed leg injury.
Toronto will be missing two players who are competing with their respective national teams - American Maurice Edu and Amado Guevara of Honduras.
Nearly 11,000 tickets have been sold for the game and the Impact is hoping good weather will produce a sellout in the 13,000-seat stadium.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008