Voyageurs Cup a double-edged sword for TFC

A shift in formation and strategy later in the game saw a shift in momentum that the Montreal Impact capitalized on, allowing them to walk away with a 1-0 victory in the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal.

MONTREAL – Greg Vanney wasn’t too upset about losing Wednesday night’s opening leg of the Amway Canadian Championship semifinals to the Montreal Impact.

That’s not at all to suggest that Toronto FC’s coach was happy about the 1-0 loss to the Impact. It’s just that it’s hardly an insurmountable deficit to overcome, especially with the Reds hosting the decisive second leg next week at BMO Field.

“I can’t say I’m disgusted with the result,” Vanney proclaimed after the match.

He later added: “I like our chances a lot. … I think we’re in decent shape (for the second leg).”

Toronto isn’t tanking it in the Voyageurs Cup. Vanney assured reporters after Wednesday’s loss that “we’re in to win it.” At 1-0 down and coming home, TFC still has a good shot at advancing to the final.

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Still, there’s no question that the Canadian competition isn’t Vanney’s top priority—the MLS playoffs are—and that he’ll continue to rotate his squad in this tournament like he did in the first leg when he left designated players Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore at home, and fielded what was essentially a “B team.”

One reason for this is because his side has played its first seven games of the MLS regular season on the road and Vanney wanted to give some key players some time to rest and recuperate. The other reason is that the winner of the Voyageurs Cup earns an automatic berth in the group stage of next season’s CONCACAF Champions League. Not this year’s CONCACAF tournament, mind you, but the 2016-17 edition.

MLS sides have a hard enough time planning long-term due to the high rate of player turnover on its rosters and the transient nature of the league. Hoisting the Voyageurs Cup is a double-edged sword as it’s a gateway into a tournament that requires lengthy trips to Mexico and Central America, and occurs in the middle of the MLS campaign.

It would be one thing if winning the Voyageurs Cup meant qualifying for this season’s CONCACAF Champions League. It’s far easier for clubs to prepare for a tournament that’s within sight.

But qualifying for a competition more than a year away forces coaches and managers to do a special brand of soccer calculus in order to figure out what their priorities are and whether they can achieve them while playing extra fixtures in the CONCACAF Champions League.

“A lot of (MLS) teams who’ve been in CONCCAF maybe didn’t have the end results in league play that they ultimately wanted. They are challenging periods of time where you’re trying to manage (two competitions) in key moments of the yet,” Vanney offered.

“You have to manage all of that, think of all that, and figure out what your priorities are as a club, and determine that as an organization, and determine how you want to approach everything.”

Montreal’s run in this season’s CONCACAF Champions League was magical, with the Impact becoming only the second MLS side to reach the final. Montreal drew 61,004 fans to Olympic Stadium for the second leg vs. Club America, setting an attendance record for the biggest crowd to watch a pro soccer game in Canadian history.

The Impact were the talk of MLS during the two-legged final, and even though a 4-2 loss in the second leg ended their dream, Montreal could be proud of what it accomplished.

But as romantic as the Impact’s run was, and alluring as playing the top teams in CONCACAF may be, Vanney won’t let that influence his decision making, or lose sight of what’s most important—qualifying for the MLS playoffs.

“I applaud (Montreal) for how deep they got into this event. It’s not easy; managing rosters that are not enormous. managing MLS seasons and then trying to also field teams in CONCACAF, it’s not an easy task. They did a fantastic job. Kudos to them,” Vanney said.

“It really doesn’t change our approach. We’re in (the Voyageurs Cup) to win it, but we’re also going to manage this event relative to our MLS season.”

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