VANCOUVER – Even though a third of the Major League Soccer regular season remains to be decided, there is a strong possibility both the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC will not be heading to the playoffs.
That’s one of many reasons why the 2018 Canadian Championship is so valuable for both clubs as they begin the two-legged home-and-away series Wednesday night at BC Place.
“We want to win something and the reality is the nearest thing is the Canadian Championship,” Vancouver captain Kendall Waston said following Tuesday’s practice. “It can also help us create momentum we need to get into the MLS playoffs.”
The Whitecaps did not make it easy on themselves getting to the final. After dropping a 1-0 decision on the road in Montreal, they responded with a 2-0 victory over the Impact in the return leg of the semifinals. Yordy Reyna and Kei Kamara scored in Vancouver’s win on July 25, which has kicked started a string of three straight matches without a loss.
“Playing in championship games is huge,” said Kamara, who has scored ten goals across all competitions for Vancouver this year. “We know we’re playing against a Toronto team that has a good history from last year. Our mindset is focused and trying to win.”
“We’re in a good run of form at the moment,” added coach Carl Robinson. “We’ll try to surprise them. No doubt everyone will assume [Toronto] will win, but that’s not the mentality we’ve got.”
Vancouver has hoisted the Voyagers Cup only once, when it beat Montreal at home in 2015. The only players on the current squad who were a part of that victory include Waston, as well as midfielders Nicolas Mezquida, Christian Techera, and Canadian-born Russell Teibert, who has appeared in more Canadian Championship matches than any player in the tournament’s history.
The Whitecaps came close to repeating the following year, but Toronto spoiled the party when Will Johnson capitalized in the dying moments to give them the victory via away goals. That memory may still sting for Vancouver fans, but revenge is not something on the mind of the club.
“Whenever you deal with disappointment in the game, you learn from it,” Robinson offered. “We’re not thinking about revenge. It’s a new day, a new game, with a new set of players.”
Last season was one to remember for soccer fans in Toronto. It started in August when the Reds clinched their fifth of six national titles by defeating Montreal. The club then cruised the rest of the way en route to winning its first MLS Cup. Even though TFC currently sports a 6-11-15 record and sits below the playoff bar in the Eastern Conference, the Whitecaps aren’t about to take their opponent lightly.
“It’s a great test for us,” Waston said. “We know that if we can close down key players like [Michael] Bradley, [Sebastian] Giovinco and [Jozy] Altidore, we are going to have more chances.”
“Stories are always about the underdogs,” Kamara added. “When you step on the field, it’s 11 versus 11. We respect Toronto, but it’s in our house. We’ve got to rest up and be ready for it.”
Rest is something neither team has had much of entering Wednesday’s meeting. Vancouver is coming off a 2-2 draw on the road last Saturday against NYCFC, while Toronto posted a 2-2 away result against MLS-leading Atlanta United.
While he wouldn’t tip his hand as to what his starting lineup might look like, Robinson will likely lean on Kamara, Reyna, and Alphonso Davies to provide the offence.
“You certainly can’t win [the championship] in the first leg, but you can lose it,” Robinson warned. “The boys are excited to go and play. Sometimes people like an underdog. That’s the mentality we’ll be having.”