By RYAN JOHNSTON
If familiarity does breed contempt, then the USL-1 Championship Series between Montreal and Vancouver will be a heated two games.
Back on June 18 the Vancouver Whitecaps were in Montreal as spectators for the final game of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship between the Impact and Toronto FC. Barring a miracle, at the conclusion of the game the Whitecaps would be awarded its first NCC title and go on to represent Canada CONCACAF Champions League. But the aforementioned miracle happened -- Toronto FC defeated Montreal by five goals to finish ahead Vancouver in goal differential and steal the NCC crown.
The events of that night left a sour taste in the mouths of the Whitecaps, who felt Montreal had rolled over by playing a B-side in a match with so much at stake.
"I guess everyone will remember that one," Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson told sportsnet.ca on Thursday. "Afterwards we were disappointed but we managed to put it behind us. That is one of the reasons why we are here in a final, because we were able to refocus instead of getting down on ourselves."
On Saturday in Vancouver the Whitecaps will try to exact revenge on its rival from Montreal in the first of a home-and-home series to decide the league champion, the first time it will be decided over two games. The defending champion Whitecaps -- seeded seventh heading into the post-season -- knocked off the top two seeds (Carolina, Portland) to set up a date with the Impact.
"Yes, we were the low seed. But coming in we were playing great soccer," Thordarson said. "I am not surprised that we got here; look at the last 15 games, we have lost only one."
Since that night in Montreal the two teams have met three times in league play, with the Impact winning all three. Over that stretch Montreal also saw former coach John Limniatis replaced by Marc Dos Santos. After starting the year winless under Limniatis, Dos Santos went on to post a record of 12-8-6, earning a coach of the year nomination.
"There is a great rivalry between both clubs because these are two great Canadian teams that are matching up once again and there's a lot of history behind them," Dos Santos told montrealimpact.com. "There's always been an ongoing struggle to be the best club in Canada but once you're in the final, you forget the past. We need to concentrate on how to become better now. We have to approach this match in Vancouver as though it were a one-game final. Then, we will think about the second match in Montreal."
Much of the success shown by Montreal in the post-season rests on the shoulders of goalkeeper Matt Jordan. The 34-year-old made 12 saves in the second-leg against the Puerto Rico Islanders in establishing a new team record with seven career playoff wins.
The USL final features various players who have played for each team. From the Impact, midfielders Joey Gjertsen, David Testo and Tony Donatelli, as well as forward Eduardo Sebrango and goalkeeper Srdjan Djekanovic have already played for the Whitecaps. 'Caps forward Charles Gbeke and midfielder Martin Nash have played in Montreal.
However, both teams are facing injuries to key players ahead of the first-leg clash at Swangard Stadium.
"We are facing injuries to Ansu Toure and Gordon Chin," Thordarson said. Chin (knee) is out and Toure (charley horse) is listed as day-to-day. Thordarson expects the pair to be ready in time for the second leg.
For Montreal, defenders Alex Surprenant, Hicham Aaboubou and Zanzan, as well as midfielders Pierre-Rudolph Mayard and Ciaran O'Brien did not make the trip west.
Following Saturday's first leg in Burnaby, B.C., the Whitecaps and Impact will head east to Montreal for the decisive second leg of the Championship final on Saturday, Oct. 17. The series will be contested as a two-match, aggregate score. If the aggregate score is tied at the conclusion of the second leg, then two 15-minute extra-time periods will be played to determine the series winner. If both sides remain tied at the end of extra time, then the series will be decided using a penalty shootout.
NOTES: Vancouver forward Marcus Haber was named rookie of the year Friday ... Whitecaps defender Geordie Lyall remains sidelined with a pulled abdominal muscle problem, while striker Dever Orgill is out for the rest of the season following a knee operation ... The Impact has a 23-9-5 record in 37 regular season matches against Vancouver (45 GF - 26 GA) ... The four goals scored by the Impact's Eduardo Sebrango in the playoffs were winning goals. In his USL-1 career, six of the eight goals he scored were winning goals.