MONTREAL — The Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps are on the bubble in terms of making the Major League Soccer playoffs this season, but the Voyageurs Cup is a trophy both clubs have an eye on.
The teams meet Wednesday night at Saputo Stadium in the first leg of a two-game, total goals Canadian Championship semifinal. The second leg is set for July 25 in Vancouver.
Montreal coach Remi Garde called it "an important competition," while Vancouver right back Jake Nerwinski said one of his team’s goals this season was to take the trophy the Whitecaps won in 2015. Two-time defending Cup champion Toronto FC opens the other semifinal Wednesday against the Ottawa Fury of the USL.
"Everyone wants to communicate that they take this competition seriously and you have to respect it for what it is, but when it comes time to show whether you’re ready to win it, it’ll whittle out the teams that are not so serious about it," said Montreal fullback Daniel Lovitz. "For us it’s important to be the team on the other side of that line and make sure we’re determined and focused on having a good performance."
The Montreal versus Vancouver match-up features two clubs headed in opposite directions of late.
After a horrendous start, the Impact have won six of their last eight league games to climb into the sixth place, the last Eastern Conference playoff spot. They’re coming off a 2-0 win over San Jose on Saturday.
The Whitecaps started strong but recent struggles saw them drop to eighth in the West after a 3-1 defeat Saturday at D.C. United, the East’s last-place team who were opening a new stadium and introducing former England star Wayne Rooney.
Injury-riddled TFC, the two-time defending Cup holders, are also struggling this season, so the competition may mean a little more this time to them as well.
But Impact midfielder Samuel Piette said that, while the Cup is an attractive goal, it is too early for any of the Canadian-based clubs to throw in the towel on making the MLS playoffs and focus all their energy on the Cup.
"Us, Toronto and Vancouver are still thinking of getting a playoff spot so it would be a bit stupid to throw all that away because there’s a lot of games left to play," said Piette. "For us, I’m sure we want to win the Cup as much as the other teams.
"It’s a plus to show that we’re the best Canadian team. But you can’t throw the MLS season away now, no matter where you are in the standings."
Under Cup rules teams must dress at least five Canadian players, including at least three starters.
The boosts the chances that Alphonso Davies, Canada’s most exciting young player, will suit up for Vancouver.
The Impact use their Canadian content frequently, with Piette a regular starter. Striker Anthony Jackson-Hamel and midfielders Raheem Edwards and Shamit Shome are likely to see action.
Garde said he had not yet decided on his lineup.
Montreal edged Vancouver 5-4 on aggregate in last year’s Cup semifinal, with Davies scoring in each game. The Whitecaps won the opener at home 2-1 but were beaten 4-2 in the second leg in Montreal.
This year, the teams met in the opening game of the regular season in Vancouver, with the Whitecaps taking a 2-1 decision on goals from Davies and Kei Kamara, with Matteo Mancosu replying for Montreal.
"In terms of general style and what they try to accomplish, the early exposure was great, although it was in March," said Lovitz. "We’ll look at the game and try to remember some things we did well.
"More than anything, that was a game that we lost and felt we should have had a better result. We look to make that right on Wednesday."