Red must score four goals in victory to claim Nutrilite Canadian Championship
By Mark Polishuk
TORONTO -- In Toronto FC's 2-1/2 year history, the club has won just one match by a four-goal margin --- a 4-0 rout of FC Dallas on June 17, 2007. Almost two years to the day later, the Reds will have to do it again in order to capture the Nutrilite Canadian Championship on Thursday in Montreal.
"It's like dangling a carrot in front of us," said forward Danny Dichio. "If we want to advance we have to get four goals. We've got to get an early goal in the game, not specifically in the first 10 minutes, but we've got to get an early edge to the game in the first half and that might put them on the back foot a little bit."
Dichio scored one of the goals in TFC's rout over Dallas, and is one of just five players from that match who are still on the Toronto roster. In fact, the Nutrilite Canadian Championship itself wasn't even in existence the last time the Reds netted a quadruple. But the Toronto team that will face the Montreal Impact on Thursday has scored three goals in a game three times this season, and believes that posting a big result is a distinct possibility.
"It is doable," said interim head coach Chris Cummins. "We know it's a tough task, but we're going to split the game into four quarters, and we've got to score one goal every 22 minutes. It's not a case of going gung-ho early, attacking and attacking. We'll manage the game to the best we can, and if we don't score in the first 15-20 minutes, we're not going to panic."
TFC is tied for third in MLS in goals scored this season, in spite of some problems in converting chances. That very problem is what put the Reds in such a deep hole in the Nutrilite tournament. Toronto dominated Montreal and Vancouver in the first two matches of the competition, yet only emerged with 1-0 victories in both games. After Vancouver beat Montreal twice, the Reds and Whitecaps met on June 2 in Vancouver, where the USL-1 side picked up a 2-0 victory against TFC.
Whitecaps FC sits atop the table with nine points from their completed four matches and a four-goal edge on Toronto. Should TFC indeed top the Impact by four goals or more, then they would tie Vancouver with nine points and claim the Voyageurs Cup due to a greater number of goals scored.
Many fans and pundits wrote off TFC's chances at the Nutrilite title after that disappointing 2-0 loss in Vancouver, but in the view of midfielder Carl Robinson, he believes that this underdog role will be a boost for his team.
"Football is all about proving people wrong," Robinson said. "Everyone I've spoke to and I've heard says we can't do it. I like that, because I like to prove people wrong. We'll go into the game with that mentality and anything we can do is a bonus. It's about people sitting up and taking notice, and if we can do that, everyone will have to eat their words, sit back and say 'well done, boys.'"
Reds captain Jim Brennan trained with the team on Tuesday and was expected to be available on Thursday after missing last Saturday's 2-1 win against New York due to an ankle injury.
Even if Brennan is available, the defender may not be doing a great deal of defending, given both Brennan's prowess as an attacking fullback and the offensive hurdle that Toronto will have to climb. But center back Nick Garcia said that the back line will have their own type of pressure to deal with in the game.
"If we can keep a clean sheet in the back, that's the biggest thing for us since it affords us the opportunity to go up there and score those goals," Garcia said. "If we end up allowing two goals, we have to score six. We need to put ourselves ahead of the game."
The Impact have just four defeats by a margin or four goals or greater in their 16-year history, and none of those losses have occurred since 2000. Though Montreal has already been eliminated from the competition and will see their seven-year streak of Voyageurs Cups come to an end, the Impact would no doubt love to officially end the Cup dreams of their Ontario rivals.
In three all-time meetings with Montreal, however, TFC are 2-0-1. And while Toronto is hoping for a big comeback, the Impact were on the wrong end of a comeback last March. Montreal held a 4-1 cumulative lead after 53 minutes in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal tie with Santos Laguna, but allowed four goals in the final 36 minutes (including two in stoppage time) to be knocked out of the tournament.
Perhaps as a source of inspiration for the task ahead of them on Thursday, a few TFC players recalled major comebacks that they had been a part of on past clubs. Dichio noted a match in England on Jan. 19, 1997, when Dichio's Queens' Park Rangers side came back from a 4-0 deficit after 65 minutes to salvage a 4-4 draw against Port Vale. Dichio even remembered that John Spencer (the former Chelsea and Colorado Rapids star and current Houston Dynamo assistant coach) who scored the winning goal.
Dwayne De Rosario was also part of a major comeback, arguably the most high-profile in Major League Soccer history. In the first round of the 2003 MLS Cup playoffs, De Rosario's San Jose Earthquakes lost a 2-0 result to Los Angeles in the opening match, and then were down 2-0 after just 13 minutes in the second leg back in San Jose.
Undeterred, the Earthquakes fired back with four goals to tie the Galaxy, and then scored the winner in sudden-death overtime. San Jose went on to capture the MLS Cup, and De Rosario said that dealing with that type of adversity is what makes a club into a winner.
"Everything is possible and you have to have that mentality if you want to be a champion," De Rosario said. "Every play counts and there's no time in the game when it's out of reach, no matter what the score is. There's always a way. Hopefully we find that way and get the job done."
Mark Polishuk is a contributor to MLSnet.com.