TORONTO – Both Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps will juggle their starting lineups when they square off Wednesday in the first leg of their Amway Canadian Championship semifinal at BMO Field.
Veteran players will see action in the opening tie of the series, but both coaches have promised to give playing time to some of the youngsters on their respective squads.
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According to the team’s official website, the Whitecaps’ 23-man squad (from which coach Carl Robinson’s 18-man roster will be determined) has an average age of 22.6 years per player. Only five players are over 25: defenders Jay DeMerit (34), Steven Beitashour (27) and Carlyle Mitchell (26), and midfielders Nigel Reo-Coker (29) and Pedro Morales (28).
Robinson confirmed earlier this week that Canadian midfielders Russell Teibert (21) and Bryce Alderson (20) and goalkeeper Marco Carducci (17) will all start against TFC. Alderson and Carducci will be making their debut for the Whitecaps senior team after graduating from the club’s youth academy.
Also, Robinson said current academy products Marcos Bustos and Kianz Froese would likely see some action on Wednesday.
“How do young players learn? That’s the question I ask myself,” said Robinson, who won this tournament as a player with TFC in 2009.
“When do they learn? We can say they’re not ready yet. Well, how do you know they’re not ready? The only way you learn whether they’re ready or not is to give them the opportunity. And Wednesday is a great opportunity for them.”
Robinson later added: “It’s a Canadian Championship. I want to give my Canadian players opportunities. I know what it means to them … and [the competition] is very important for the club as well.”
As for Toronto, coach Ryan Nelsen’s starting lineup is expected to feature Canadian defenders Doneil Henry (21) and Ashtone Morgan (23). While Henry has been a regular starter in the centre of defence for the Reds when healthy, Morgan has been supplanted by off-season acquisition Justin Morrow as the club’s starting left-back. Morgan has made only one appearance as a substitute this season.
Other Canadians who could figure in proceedings on Wednesday include Dwayne De Rosario, Issey Nakajima-Farran, and Kyle Bekker. Midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who has been one of TFC’s best players this campaign, is doubtful after suffering a quadriceps contusion in MLS play against the New England Revolution last Saturday.
Nelsen confirmed that backup Joe Bendik will start in net. Starter Julio Cesar will be given the night off, paving the way for Bendik to earn his first start this season—he started 33 of 34 MLS games for Toronto in 2013.
Aside from Osorio, Toronto will be without midfielder Jeremy Hall, while defender Bradley Orr (calf) is doubtful.
Nelsen says designated players Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley and Gilberto will "most likely" play in Wednesday's match.
"They’re all desperate to play," Nelsen stated.
Forward Darren Mattocks (left hamstring strain), and defenders Sam Adekugbe (right knee) and Ethen Sampson (right knee) are unavailable for Vancouver on Wednesday.
The return leg of the semifinal is scheduled for next Wednesday in Vancouver. The winner advances to the two-legged final (May 28 and June 4) versus the winner of the other semifinal between the Montreal Impact and FC Edmonton, who compete in the second-tier NASL.
Toronto won four Canadian championships in a row from 2009 to 2012. Montreal won last year and the inaugural competition in 2008. The Whitecaps have finished runners-up the last five years and is vying for its first Canadian title.
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