The two week wait is finally over and on Tuesday we can start the home-and-home MLS Eastern Conference Championship between the hated Montreal Impact and our beloved Toronto FC. It was unfortunate that World Cup qualifying matches had been scheduled for this time (and again in a couple of weeks) as it has diminished the excitement and growing interest of this team, this league and of this sport. But it is, what it is. Players and fans both need to get back into the swing of things quickly as this “401 Derby” is poised to be another slobberknocker. Yes, with the WWE in town, I couldn’t resist using a wrestling term. The international duty didn’t just cause a layoff, as Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore need to put aside a couple of tough losses with the US Men’s National Team. They all will need to be at their best because that first leg in Montreal could be decisive. Let’s take a look at how the Reds have fared in Stade Saputo in what I call the good, the bad and the rivalry.
The Good – The Impossible Victory
In all honesty, it should have been a meaningless game. It was the final of the 2009 Canadian Championship and TFC had to win by 4 goals in Montreal to be able to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League. The Impact were not a very good side that year, but they were still formidable. The Vancouver Whitecaps, who were poised to win the championship were even in attendance that fateful night. It couldn’t have started any worse for TFC as the Impact were awarded a penalty kick in the 24th minute and converted it to take a 1-0 lead. That meant the Reds now needed 5 goals and apart from the last 2 seasons, the Reds were rarely, if ever, an offensive team. But cue the comeback as miracles do happen. Dwayne De Rosario scored 5 minutes later and again 10 min after that and TFC had a 2-1 lead at half. He completed his hat trick 4 min into the second half and everyone started wondering…. Could they? When Amado Guevara scored in the 69th minute and Chad Barrett in the 82nd, we were poised for an unbelievable ending. Guevara clinched it in the 90th minute while a deflated Impact lay sullen on the pitch and a shocked Whitecaps team changed their flight plans and headed home. To this day it stands as the Reds most improbable victory and until their 5-0 victory at NYFC it was their most important.
The Ugly – Over before it even started
We don’t have to go very far in history to recall the worst game that TFC has had against the Impact as it was only last year. It wasn’t the loss that made it difficult or even the 3-0 score line. What made it hard to stomach was the emotional high everyone in the 6ix was on heading into it and the significant drop that happened so sudden. After all, this was the first time in its nine year history that the Reds had made the play offs so there was a ton of excitement and a ton of expectation. Before we could even finish our first drink, (OK, I am slow drinker) the Impact got off to a 3-0 halftime lead and the game was over. Montreal did well defensively and punished TFC’s early jitters. They never looked back. Clearly, TorontoFC were not ready for playoff soccer. But that was last year.
The Rivalry – More than just soccer
There have been enough matches between these two clubs for the entire country to understand the animosity that exists. Last year’s playoff loss alone would be enough for vengeance but there is so much more. This past weekend Les Canadiens once again (12 in a row now I believe) beat the Maple Leafs 2-1. We know the hatred of these historic franchises and it is great to see this rivalry continue as both teams are progressing. But in reality, the rivalry with Montreal goes well beyond sport too. French vs English, fashion vs business, beer and wine at local stores vs… wait, we may soon have tied that one. At any rate, this is a rivalry that everyone should get behind even if you are not a soccer fan, or worse, even if you are a snobbish soccer fan who doesn’t watch MLS soccer. Both these teams have incredible international talent. Drogba, Piatti and Ciman on one side, Giovinco, Altidore and Bradley on the other. They both have strong defences and above all… above all, they know what derby soccer is and they have fully embraced this exciting Toronto vs. Montreal rivalry.
You should too.
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