Canadian Championship: Toronto FC wary of "hungry" rivals from Montreal in final first leg

TORONTO – Toronto FC host the Montreal Impact in the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final on Wednesday (7:30 pm ET, Sportsnet One), and TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen is focused on one thing from the outset.

“We can’t concede an away goal,” he told reporters on Monday. “I think that kind of hurt us in the Vancouver leg."

Toronto won the home leg of the semifinal against the Vancouver Whitecaps, 2-1, which forced them to press in the second leg in British Columbia. They eventually won in penalties after a mirror-image 2-1 scoreline. 

This time, he'd like to get a better start to the two-match series, and despite Montreal's struggles in the league right now, he expects a fight from the Reds' biggest rivals.

“They’re always good games,” Nelsen said of the TFC-Impact rivalry. “I really enjoyed all of them last year. They’re really close. Montreal is a very good team.”

Montreal were forced to battle back against second-division side FC Edmonton to secure their spot in the final. It was a lone bright spot in what has proven to be a very trying 2014 for the club. In the league, they sit dead last in the standings and possess a 1-6-4 record.

Nelsen says those numbers won’t matter, though.

“The [Impact’s] results haven’t gone their way this year but you can see the quality,” Nelsen said. “They’re well coached, and it’ll turn. We know that they’re an extremely difficult opposition and I think they’re a wee bit wounded at the moment, which makes them even more dangerous.”

Among the Reds' wounded is Jonathan Osorio, who Nelsen says is probably out for the home leg, still nursing a hamstring problem picked up last week.

This season, the tournament has been a largely Canadian affair, with each side featuring plenty of native talent. Toronto's Canadian contingent includes players like Osorio, Kyle Bekker, and Doneil Henry.

Henry, like his manager, sees a Montreal side that is better than its record suggests.

“We’re not going to approach that game any differently,” Henry said. “Montreal’s a good side. They’ve started really slow [in th league], but they have quality players in their team. For no reason will we look at them as underdogs – they’re coming in hungry.”

Could Montreal's hunger lead Toronto to overcompensate? Nelsen emphasized the need to separate the emotion of a rivalry from the actual game.

“You try not to get caught up in anything that’s emotional because it does cloud your decision-making,” Nelsen said. “So you try not to get caught up with it. It’s a game where, hopefully, if we do our things right, we can win.

"But if we get caught up in the occasion, we could do something silly. We understand it’s a final. We understand it’s Montreal. But we use that to motivate, not get caught up in emotions.”