Counter Attack: All hail the Voyageurs Cup


Bakary Soumare and Calum Mallace of the Montreal Impact. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Welcome to Counter Attack, Sportsnet’s Monday column that recaps the weekend and previews the week ahead for the three Canadian teams in Major League Soccer.

Weekend summed up in a paragraph

While the Montreal Impact enjoyed yet another weekend off, Toronto FC earned its second consecutive clean sheet victory on the road (yes, you read that right) and the Vancouver Whitecaps continued to grind it out away from home.

What happened this weekend?

Philadelphia 0, Toronto 1
Portland 0, Vancouver 0


Montreal Impact: 0-2-2, 2 points (10th in Eastern Conference)
Toronto FC: 3-4-0, 9 points (5th in Eastern Conference)
Vancouver Whitecaps: 5-3-2, 17 points (2nd in Western Conference)

What did we learn this weekend?

Tactical switch transforms TFC: For a second game in a row, coach Greg Vanney abandoned the diamond-shaped 4-4-2 formation he employed earlier in the campaign and used a more flat midfield 4-4-2 setup. By using two lines of four, Toronto managed and controlled the game, allowing Philadelphia to enjoy possession, but making it harder for the hosts to break them down. This tactical switch has led to a bit of a transformation in TFC. Whereas they were defensively unstable and easy to break down during their four-game losing streak (and for most of the first half in the season-opening win vs. Vancouver), the Reds have looked far more impenetrable over the last two matches and have recorded consecutive clean sheets—this after conceding 11 goals through their first five games.

Whitecaps have become a good road side: Like TFC, the Whitecaps have historically struggled on the road since entering MLS. But the Whitecaps put in another strong away performance on the weekend against strong opposition in the Timbers. A dull, but hard-fought draw in Portland saw the Whitecaps improve their road record to 3-1-1 this season, a record that most teams in MLS would envy. It’s not just the record that’s impressive, but Vancouver’s performances—they’re grinding it out in ugly games, and finding a way to pick up valuable points in games where their best players have off nights (in this case, Pedro Morales vs. Portland). Save for conceding a penalty shot that hit the post, the Whitecaps were never in danger of conceding against the Timbers, and managed the game and the crowd in an efficient manner.

Giovinco with a peach of a goal

Upcoming schedule

Montreal vs. Portland (Saturday, 4:00 pm ET)
Vancouver vs. Philadelphia (Saturday, 7:00 pm ET)
Toronto vs. Houston (Sunday, 5:00 pm ET)

Wednesday programming alert: Watch Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC live on Sportsnet World and web streamed on at 7:30 pm ET, and FC Edmonton vs. Vancouver Whitecaps at 10:00 pm ET on Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet World. || Sportsnet NOW || Broadcast schedule

Stories to follow

Canadian Championship semis kick off: The Amway Canadian Championship resumes this week with the first leg of the semifinals, the round where the MLS teams enter the fray. Montreal will try to win their straight Voyageurs Cup, but must first get by Toronto, who will host the decisive second leg. Vancouver has yet to win this tournament, and you can bet that it’s a sore spot with the organization. Even though the Whitecaps are tied for first place in MLS, this competition is priority. Coach Carl Robinson will likely rotate his squad for the semifinals vs. the NASL’s FC Edmonton, but anything less than winning the Voyageurs Cup will be a major letdown for the Whitecaps.

TFC finally comes home: Finally, the Reds are set to come back home! TFC began the season with a seven-match road trip due to construction at BMO Field, and will now play their first home game on Sunday against Houston. This was a gruelling stretch for Toronto, but it came out of it in decent shape, with three wins and nine points out of a possible 21. Now it’s time to rack up some point at home, and take advantage of the fact that six of their next eight league home games are at BMO, giving them the perfect chance to climb up the Eastern Conference standings and, just as important, reconnect with their fans.

Impact return to MLS action: Montreal’s magical run to the CONCACAF Champions League final is over, which means it’s back to normal now for the Impact in MLS, where they’ve only played four games (two draws and a loss) and where they have a lot of ground to make up (every team in the Eastern Conference has played at least seven matches). It’ll be interesting to see what kind of transition the Impact make back into domestic matters—there are no more high profile opponents such as Club America, no visits to Azteca, and no home crowds of 61,000 fans awaiting them. What does await them are a pile of fixtures, and the very real possibility of being out of the playoff race by mid-summer unless they hit the ground running and make up ground on their Eastern rivals.

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