Reds can clinch national championship with point against Vancouver
By Mark Polishuk
TORONTO -- Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC enter Tuesday's Nutrilite Canadian Championship match in Vancouver with six points apiece, and for the Reds, their path to the national championship and netting the first trophy in the club's short history is an easy one.
Just a single point from a draw -- or, of course, a victory -- and TFC clinch the Canadian Championship in advance of the tournament's final match on June 18 between TFC and the Montreal Impact. A loss, however, and the tournament will likely be decided on goal differential.
"We never go into games looking for ties," said Toronto interim head coach Chris Cummins. "We'll be going for a win. We know it's going to be a tough game; they'll be trying to get the victory as well to keep themselves in the tournament."
TFC are a perfect 2-0 thus far in the Canadian Championship, picking up 1-0 wins at BMO Field against Whitecaps and the Impact on May 6 and May 13, respectively. Vancouver rebounded from their loss in Toronto to pick up a 2-0 win in Montreal on May 20 and another 1-0 victory against the Impact last Wednesday at Swangard Stadium.
A draw in Vancouver will give TFC the Canadian Championship based on winning the head-to-head series between the clubs (4 points to 1), even with a loss in Montreal. A win wouldn't clinch the Voyageurs Cup for Vancouver, but it would mean that Toronto would need to win in Montreal, and also by a wide enough margin to overcome what would be at least a two-goal difference.
"It was a good result for Vancouver to beat Montreal, so we have pretty much two tough games ahead of us," said TFC midfielder Dwayne De Rosario. "They're riding a bit of confidence right now, but if we continue to play the way we're doing now, we'll be just fine. ... They're riding on a bit of a high right now after beating Montreal. I watched the game and to be fair, Vancouver could've punished them early on in the game and then Montreal came back in the end."
Whitecaps FC indeed controlled the action last Wednesday, but a missed penalty kick in the first half and a number of missed chances to expand on the lead might prove costly in a tournament where goal differential is becoming an increasingly large factor. The same could be said of TFC, who outshot their Canadian rivals by a 28-9 margin (17-4 in shots on goals) in their first two games, but could only come away with one-goal victories in each match.
Scoring away from BMO Field has not been a problem for the Reds this season, as they are tied for third in Major League Soccer with nine away goals in five road games. Toronto has only been shut out once away from home this year, but that clean sheet took place just Saturday, when the Reds suffered their worst defeat of the season in a 3-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo.
Given the short turnaround time between matches, TFC flew straight to Vancouver on Sunday morning and trained on Monday in preparation for Tuesday night's contest. Amado Guevara and Marvell Wynne didn't make the trip with the team, as the two players will spend the next two weeks away on international duty. Forward Danny Dichio did not play in the Houston game, which makes it all but certain that the veteran striker will be in the Reds' starting XI against Whitecaps FC.
TFC won't be the only ones shorthanded for Tuesday's match. Vancouver team captain Martin Nash was booked in the Montreal game, and thus is suspended for his club's final Canadian Championship appearance. Reds defender Jim Brennan, a friend and former teammate of Nash on Canada's national team, knows that Whitecaps FC will be hurt without their captain.
"Everything goes through Nashie," Brennan said. "He's a big player for them. He's a great player. He's going to be missed but his [absence] is something we've got to capitalize on."
Tuesday's game will be the first of six matches for TFC in June, a busy schedule that was recently deepened with the move of a home game against New York from August to June 13. Given this fixture congestion, the Reds would love to head to Montreal on June 18 with the Voyageurs Cup already in their possession.
"That would be a perfect scenario," De Rosario said. "We could relax. The guys who need the rest would potentially get rest and a lot of the young guys could get a game in."
Should Toronto lose on Tuesday, then the Nutrilite Canadian Championship would be decided by a Toronto-Montreal match for the second consecutive year. Last season, the Reds entered the tournament's final match needing a win to unseat the Impact at the top of the table. Unfortunately for TFC, they could only manage a 1-1 draw at BMO Field, and had to watch the Impact celebrate with the trophy on their own home field.
De Rosario wasn't a member of TFC during last year's competition, but he would love to turn things around and end the 2009 tournament with the Reds clinching on the opposition's turf at Swangard.
"It's going to be a great game," De Rosario said. "I'm looking forward to it. I haven't played in Vancouver for a while and the pitch looks pretty decent out there."
Mark Polishuk is a contributor to MLSnet.com.