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Toronto FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps | Canadian Championship Match Preview

TORONTO FC vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC
BMO FIELD, Toronto, Ontario
May 7, 2014 (2014 Amway Canadian Championship semifinal first leg)
7:30 pm ET (Sportsnet One)

The Amway Canadian Championship is a Canadian Soccer League-sanctioned competition that crowns the top Canadian professional team and determines Canada’s entry into the CONCACAF Champions League.

Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC will play a two-legged home-and-home series over the next week, with the winner advancing to face either Montreal Impact or North American Soccer League side FC Edmonton in the championship final.

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC

The ‘Caps are going with younger squad in the first leg of the semifinal – their 23-man roster (from which the 18-man gameday roster will be determined) for Wednesday's match has an average age of 22.6 years old.

Only five players on Vancouver's 23-man roster are above the age of 25: defenders Jay DeMerit (34), Steven Beitashour (27) and Carlyle Mitchell (26) and midfielders Nigel Reo-Coker (29) and Pedro Morales (28).

As Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson noted, he can still make other additions to his roster as the competition progresses, but it’s clear that youth will be a big part of the squad on Wednesday.

“How do young players learn? That’s the question I ask myself,” said Robinson, adding that Mitchell and fellow defenders Johnny Leveron and Christian Dean would all play. “When do they learn? We can say they’re not ready yet. Well, how do you know they’re not ready? The only way you learn whether they’re ready or not is to give them the opportunity. And Wednesday is a great opportunity for them.”

Robinson confirmed on Monday that Canadian midfielders Russell Teibert (21) and Bryce Alderson (20) and goalkeeper Marco Carducci (17) will each start on Wednesday. It will be the Whitecaps FC first-team debut for Alderson and Carducci, who both graduated from the club’s Residency program.

The 'Caps manager also said that 18-year-old Residency midfielders Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese will likely see some minutes. Bustos and Froese are two of four current Residency players included on Vancouver’s preliminary roster – striker Jordan Haynes and midfielder Mitch Piraux are the others. Centre back and Residency graduate Jackson Farmer, who has been recalled from loan with USL PRO side Charleston Battery, is also on the roster.

Teams can play up to six Canadian academy players in the Canadian Championship even if they’re not signed to Major League Soccer contracts. The eight Canadian players on Vancouver’s preliminary Canadian Championship roster are more than any other MLS team in the competition.

“It’s a Canadian Championship. I want to give my Canadian players opportunities,” Robinson said. “I know what it means to them … and [the competition] is very important for the club as well.”

“Even if we play a younger group of players, I believe we can win,” he added. “I know we can win. And we’ll give it every inch we’ve got to win that game. It’s not nice when you miss out on an opportunity to win a trophy. And it’s a trophy we’re going to try and win.”

On the injury front, Robinson said on Monday he’s hopeful that Darren Mattocks’ left hamstring strain will only keep him out a few weeks. Defenders Sam Adekugbe (right knee) and Ethen Sampson (right knee) are also both unavailable on Wednesday due to injury.

TORONTO FC

After a disappointing 2013 season, Toronto FC underwent a massive offseason makeover, bringing in the likes of US national team star Michael Bradley, longtime English Premier League striker Jermain Defoe, and Brazil national team goalkeeper Julio Cesar.

It’s unclear at this point whether Toronto will field an experienced or youthful side on Wednesday, though Bradley, Defoe, Julio Cesar and most of their first-team regulars were included on the preliminary roster.

The Reds got off to an impressive start to the 2014 MLS season, defeating Seattle Sounders FC and D.C. United in their first two matches, but have fallen off a bit since then. After picking up their third win of the season at the beginning of April against Columbus Crew, Ryan Nelsen’s side has suffered three consecutive losses heading into Wednesday’s contest.

Injuries have likely played a part in their recent woes – Defoe missed three straight matches before returning to the squad this past weekend in a 2-1 loss to New England Revolution. The Englishman still leads the team with three goals in four appearances.

There are six Canadian players listed on Toronto FC’s preliminary roster for Wednesday’s match, including veteran Dwayne De Rosario and fellow Canadian internationals Ashtone Morgan, Kyle Bekker, Doneil Henry, Issey Nakajima-Farran, and Jonathan Osorio.

Osorio is unlikely to play on Wednesday, however, after suffering a quadriceps contusion this past weekend.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

With four titles to their name, Toronto FC are the most successful team in the Canadian Championship to date. The 'Caps, meanwhile, are still searching for their first title after finishing as the runners-up in five straight years.

Prior to last year’s tournament, when Montreal Impact edged Whitecaps FC on aggregate in the championship final, Toronto won four straight titles – defeating the 'Caps in the final on each occasion.

In MLS competition, however, Vancouver and Toronto have split their four meetings to date.