Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact: 10 things to watch
Toronto FC’s groundsmen should be given Men of the Match honours if they can pull the CFL-to-MLS pitch replacement in a matter of three days. Cynical TFC supporters circled the Grey Cup as a looming disaster if the Reds hosted the second leg of the Eastern Conference final. Now, they are. And overly-critical soccer fans in this city will blow a gasket if they see football markings on a torn up pitch Wednesday night.
Kind of a joke, we admit, but let’s assume Toronto’s groundsmen are superior to the lot they have working up at the Olympic Stadium.
Remember, it was just last week that the first leg of the Eastern Conference final was delayed for close to 40 minutes after the penalty boxes were painted using the wrong dimensions.
It was truly disastrous.
The first leg of this two-leg tie average 1.026 million viewers on TSN and RDS, a Canadian MLS record.
We’re guessing that, given its primetime slot — not to mention what’s at stake — the numbers for Wednesday night’s return leg could be bigger.
Remember, more than 3 million Canadians tuned into at least a portion of last week’s game.
CAN IRWIN BOUNCE BACK
Nobody came out and blamed Clint Irwin for failing to come up with a big save last week. But he’ll likely need to make at least one or two Wednesday night if the Reds are to survive this Eastern Conference championship.
Looking back, Irwin might have saved Ambroise Oyongo’s second-half goal (a slow roller) on another day. The disappointment on Irwin’s face at full-time told the story.
Either way, MLS clubs need their ‘keepers to come up with big moments in the playoffs to survive every step along the way.
ADDITION OF JOHNSON
Chances are we see Will Johnson in this game. The Canadian midfielder is an absolute workhorse, who relishes tracking down attacking players and dispossessing the opposition in the middle and defensive thirds.
Look for Johnson to be the guy who rotates over and covers whenever one of TFC’s wing backs — Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour — bomb forward. Johnson’s presence could prove vital in disrupting Montreal’s counterattacking.
SPACE FOR GIOVINCO
The Atomic Ant told reporters Monday he’d have to be a “magician” to find space along Montreal’s back line. The Impact have more or less shut down Giovinco in three of their last four meetings by tucking in their fullbacks and playing with two ultra-defensive midfielders in Marco Donadel and Hernan Bernardello. As a result, look for Giovinco to play off a wing more or interchange with Armando Cooper, who could play in more of an advance role.
CAN ALTIDORE KEEP ROLLING?
You could argue Jozy Altidore has been the best player in Major League Soccer during the last half of the season. He has 14 goals in his previous 19 MLS fixtures. Altidore also is the only player in these playoffs to have scored in every single game.
Altidore told Impact defender Victor Cabrera to bulk a bit after he tossed him aside last game. Let’s see if the American striker can play like a beast this game.
TFC’S DEFENSIVE TRIO
How fragile is Toronto FC’s defensive trio after surrendering three goals in the first leg? And, how healthy is Eriq Zavaleta?
Zavaleta trained Tuesday — and should be ready to go — after missing Monday’s practice with a lower-body injury.
One thing’s for sure, the Reds haven’t looked comfortable defending the counterattacking abilities of Nacho Piatti, Matteo Mancosu and Dominic Oduro.
Impact bench boss Mauro Biello took some criticism last game for, perhaps, bringing on Didier Drogba too early.
The Ivorian legend hardly threatened TFC’s back line through the final 20 minutes and it took away Montreal’s ability to play in transition.
Drogba probably shouldn’t see the pitch for the first 80 minutes of Wednesday night’s game.
BAD BLOOD BOILING OVER
There have been three ejections and two melees during the six meetings between these two sides this season.
If this game gets away from one of these teams late, will bad blood boil over once again?
MONTREAL IMPACT @ TORONTO FC — EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL (LEG 2)
BMO FIELD (7 P.M. ET ON TSN)
Montreal leads 3-2 on aggregate.
All-time vs. Montreal (15 MLS meetings): 6-5-4
All-time playoff record vs. Montreal (2 MLS meetings): 0-2-0
Last five meetings (including Canadian Championship) —
TFC 4, MTL 2;
TFC 0, MTL 0;
TFC 0, MTL 1;
TFC 2, MTL 2;
TFC 2, MTL 3
REGULAR SEASON FINISH
Toronto FC (14-9-11, third place in the East)
Montreal Impact (11-11-12, fifth place in the East)
TFC — Irwin, Zavaleta, Moor, Hagglund, Morrow, Beitashour, Bradley, Cooper, Johnson, Giovinco, Altidore
Impact — Bush, Camara, Ciman, Cabrera, Oyongo, Bernardello, Bernier, Donadel, Oduro, Mancosu, Piatti