Canadian Championship: Toronto FC's Ryan Nelsen demands 90 "ruthless" minutes from his team
Heading into the kickoff of the 2013 edition on Wednesday night (7:30 pm ET, Sportsnet/TVA Sports), TFC are the defending Canadian champions and have won Canada's domestic cup four out of the five years in which it has been contested.
However, in a world of professional sports in which the phrase "What have you done for me lately?" is an occupational truism, the question likely on the tongues of Canadian soccer fans centers on whether or not the defending champs are in fact the underdogs in their first leg against the Montreal Impact.
Montreal are off to a stellar start to their sophomore MLS campaign and currently have six points more than the Reds with a game in hand. Toronto, on the other hand, have dropped points in their past three matches due to an alarming propensity for conceding goals in the very final minutes of games.
There is also the fact that Montreal has already defeated Toronto once this year, earning a 2-1 victory at Olympic Stadium during Rivalry Week last month. And while he respects Montreal for the quality side that they are, Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen is putting little stock in a match that he already considers ancient history.
"I think we are now a better team than we were when we went to Montreal," Nelsen told MLSsoccer.com. "We are still learning and we're still trying to get better and better."
Though he sees his squad as one that is continually evolving and improving with every match and training session, Nelsen is willing to admit that his team can take both confidence and a lesson learned from their previous performance against the Impact. After falling behind 2-0 at the close of the first half in Montreal, his players responded in spirited fashion and had the Impact back on their heels for the majority of the final 45 minutes.
"The second half of that Montreal game was what is to be expected from this club," Nelsen said. "They learned that we can't be slow out of the gate or you will get punished against good teams like Montreal."
Many see Toronto as a club heading into the Canadian Championship coming off a deflating draw against Houston in which the team dropped two points at home. But Nelsen prefers to look at his side as one that, for 93 minutes, dominated a dynamic Houston side that recently set the all-time MLS record for consecutive home games without a loss in all competitions.
"When we are on our game, we can dominate most teams," said Nelsen. "It is just about being consistent and being professional and ruthless. We have to do it for a full match."