TORONTO—Think it’s just Toronto FC’s Canadian players who are looking forward to playing in the Amway Canadian Championship final against the Montreal Impact?
The tournament holds special meaning for TFC’s Canadian-born players, to be sure. But captain Steven Caldwell (from Scotland) and fellow defender Bradley Orr (an Englishman) are just as excited to play in the two-game final. TFC hosts the Impact in the first leg on Wednesday at BMO Field. The return match is scheduled for June 4 in Montreal.
Wednesday programming alert: Watch Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact in the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final live on Sportsnet ONE and Sportsnet Word. Coverage begins at 7:30 pm ET/4:30 pm ET. Sportsnet World Online | TV schedule
Orr, who grew up in Liverpool, explained his love of playing in cup games stems from the FA Cup’s long and storied tradition in his home country.
“I love cup games. … As a kid growing up, you’d always dream of lifting the cup. Back in England it was the FA Cup—now that I’m here it’s the Canadian Cup and it’s just as important for me as any (Major League Soccer) game because there’s pride at stake and a lot to play for,” Orr told reporters after Tuesday’s practice.
Caldwell also has a deep appreciation for domestic cup competitions, having appeared in a number of FA Cup and League Cup matches during his previous playing stints in the Premier League and Championship.
“It’s very, very important. We want to win the Cup. We obviously want to get a good lead from the first leg,” Caldwell offered.
Under normal circumstances, coach Ryan Nelsen might have given Caldwell Wednesday night off in order to rest him for the club’s next MLS game, a home contest against the Columbus Crew on Saturday. But TFC’s captain was issued a red card for a studs-up challenge on Antonio Dovale in a 2-2 draw with Sporting Kansas City last Friday, thus earning a one-game suspension. With no weekend game to rest up for, Caldwell will start against Montreal.
“I’ve never tackled to (try to) hurt anyone in my life. The ball was there to be won. I won the ball. He came into my leg and follows through. I’m biased but I do feel it was the wrong decision. I feel like (the ref) was very impatient and quick to give the red card. He had that in his mind before he even thought about it,” Caldwell stated.
Nelsen has some injury concerns to deal with, as Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio (hamstring) and Brazilian winger Jackson (concussion) have been ruled out of Wednesday’s game. English forward Luke Moore (groin injury) is questionable.
If Moore can’t go, look for Nelsen to start Gilberto and Dwayne De Rosario up front, and save Jermain Defoe for the weekend.
Signed to a designated player contract in the off-season, Gilberto has looked sharp overall for TFC. He’s doing all the little things right: showing great speed and awareness, and effectively linking up with teammates. But he’s failed to score a single goal in 10 appearances in all competitions.
Nelsen admitted he’s worried about the Brazilian’s lack of offensive production.
“I’d be lying if (I said) it’s not a concern. We know it, he knows it, everyone knows it: he just needs a goal. He’s playing well. But sometimes when you don’t get that goal your confidence goes and other aspects of your game goes,” Nelsen said.
“He will come out of (this slump), and we just have to be there supporting him until it happens.”
De Rosario has been limited to six MLS appearances this season, most of them as a substitute. The Canadian international has found it difficult to get playing time in his second stint with the team, especially with Defoe and Gilberto ahead of him on the depth chart.
But Toronto has three games in the next eight days, so the club’s all-time leading scorer should expect to see some minutes.
“It’s a little bit of a frustrating time for me, but I have to keep focused and keep my head in it. There’s a lot of games ahead and it’s a long season, and when I do get my opportunities I have to make the most of them,” De Rosario said.
Nelsen will be without midfielder Collen Warner, who was recently acquired in a trade with Montreal. Warner is cup tied for this competition, having previously played for the Impact in the semifinals. Likewise, winger Issey Nakajima-Farran, who TFC sent to Montreal in the trade, won’t be available to play for the Impact.
Warner’s absence is a big blow for TFC, especially after he had such a strong game against Kansas City.
“For me, it was a man of the match performance. I thought he was absolutely brilliant,” Nelsen offered. “He got stronger as the game went on and he had a influence on both of our goals. It’s exactly why we brought him in.”
NOTES: The winner of the Amway Canadian Championship advances to the group stage of the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League… Toronto won four Canadian championships in a row from 2009 to 2012. Montreal won last year and the inaugural competition in 2008….