TORONTO — For the second time this season, Toronto FC travel to British Columbia to take on their cross-country rivals Vancouver.
This time around, though, Reds players and fans are hoping that Wednesday night’s Nutrilite Canadian Championship first-leg final match turns out far better than the MLS First Kick contest that saw TFC fall 4-2 to the Whitecaps.
Despite the fact that Vancouver have struggled since then — the ‘Caps have won just once more in all competitions, beating Montreal 1-0 in the first leg of their NCC semifinal series — Toronto players are expecting a tough test from the hosts.
“It won’t be easy,” said TFC midfielder Matt Gold. “Vancouver is a good team. But we are focused on trying to go out there and get a good result so we can bring a trophy back to Toronto.”
The two-leg, total-goal series will determine the winner of the Voyageurs Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League spot that goes with it. Toronto have won the competition each of the last two years and have not allowed a goal since the 25th minute of the final game of the 2009 NCC. The 606-minute shutout streak is a record for the Canadian Championship.
Wednesday’s expected starter between the posts for TFC, Stefan Frei, has a personal shutout streak of 426 minutes in the competition, which is also an individual record.
Toronto head coach Aron Winter said he isn’t that interested in history, though — be it past NCC games or the opening week loss in MLS to the Whitecaps. To him, the NCC final represents another opportunity to grow TFC into the club he wants it to be.
“We were a little bit unlucky [on March 19 at Vancouver] because we didn’t play that bad," Winter said, "but the goals we were giving away were very easy."
Toronto are a better club now than they were in March, according to the coach.
“If you were watching games two-and-a-half months ago, we were playing games for 50 minutes and then [we were playing] less [well],” Winter said. “Now … our final target is to play the whole game played well.”
Everyone close to the club expects the next two games to be classics. Although the two clubs have struggled at times this year, there is little doubt that the pan-Canadian Derby will bring the most out of the players.
“Even though I’m an American, and I can’t feel that Canadian rivalry the same way as the Canadians on the team, or especially the fans, we all understand how much it means to win these games, “Gold said. “We hope we can give the fans a better performance.”