MONTREAL — The Vancouver Whitecaps have the lead, but the Montreal Impact will have a lot on their side in the second leg of their Canadian Championship semifinal at Saputo Stadium on Tuesday night.
Not only will the Impact be at home, they will be well rested against a Whitecaps side that will play its fourth game in 11 days.
They also have an away goal in the bag after their 2-1 defeat in the first leg of the two-game, total goals series in Vancouver last week.
And the Impact, who haven’t played since then, will be free to use more of their regulars because they will still have time to rest up before the New York Red Bulls visit for an MLS regular-season match on Saturday.
"It is (an advantage), but in soccer it’s not something you want to dwell on or put into the bank as a guarantee," said forward Dominic Oduro. "If you don’t start right, like we did in Vancouver, we’re going to be in trouble.
"We have guys who are rested but it doesn’t matter. We have to come out strong."
After beating Montreal, the Whitecaps lost 1-0 at home to D.C. United on Saturday, conceding a goal on a penalty while hitting the woodwork four times at the other end.
But they will likely use a mostly different first 11, much as they did in the first leg, to try to keep the Impact off the scoresheet or add another goal or two to their total.
"It’s a great opportunity for the other guys," said Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson. "I’m going to obviously go with a similar squad as I did the last time. Give them the opportunity to play, which is what it’s about.
"Maybe we can score a goal. We might need to score a goal."
Montreal can take the series with a 1-0 victory, but a trip to the final gets farther away each time the Whitecaps add a goal.
The Whitecaps dominated the first half of the opening leg, taking a 2-0 lead through teen wonder Alphonso Davies and Nicolas Mezquida. Montreal turned the tables in the second half, picking up a 61st minute goal from academy product David Choiniere. Captain Patrice Bernier had a chance to equalize six minutes later but hit a post from the penalty spot.
It was the kind of Jekyll and Hyde performance the Impact have produced repeatedly en route to a 3-4-4 start to the MLS season.
"We’ve been in this situation over and over where we don’t play great soccer in the first half and then we just flip it 180 in the second half," said Oduro. "This time we have to fix it.
"We’re trying to prove that we’re the best team in Canada. It’ll be a tough one but I think we’ll be more prepared than last time."
Coach Mauro Biello confirmed that backup Maxime Crepeau will be back in goal and suggested some veterans who didn’t play in Vancouver may see action in the second leg. Right back Chris Duvall, centreback Laurent Ciman and defensive midfielder Hernan Bernardello were regular starters who played in the first leg. Top players like Ignacio Piatti and Blerim Dzemailli may see some minutes.
"That’s the plan in terms of having that extra day,"said Biello."I have options in terms of guys who rested the last game.
"It’s important for cohesion. We had success against Portland (a 4-1 win on May 21) with a certain lineup, so it’s important that some of those guys get some minutes."
The Canadian Championship is the first step toward participation in the CONCACAF Champions League, and the Impact yearn for a chance to relive their thrilling run to the final in 2015.
First they need to get past the Whitecaps.
"I wouldn’t say we’re in the driver’s seat because we’re down a goal," said Biello. "They’ve got the lead.
"For sure, it makes for an interesting game. When it’s a two-game series it’s always a little tricky. The game is never over till the end because of the away goals rule. So we need to be able to manage the game the right away and be focused for 95 minutes. A 1-0 win lets us pass, but you can’t play too defensive or too offensive. You’ve go to balance it out and play a smart game."