Jay Nolly has been in this position before. His Vancouver Whitecaps need a positive result on Wednesday at Toronto FC to win the Nutrilite Canadian Championship and advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.
Nolly has started all 15 games, and played every minute for Whitecaps FC in their four-year history in the NCC tournament. This is familiar ground.
One game, though, stands out above the rest.
In the first edition of the battle for Canadian supremacy in 2008, Nolly and the then-second division Whitecaps — with Teitur Thordarson in his first year as head coach — traveled east to face Toronto FC in front of a hostile crowd on Canada Day at BMO Field.
“I still have video from that game,” said Nolly. “It was a lot of fun, but a lot of stress.”
It was the first meeting between the two clubs, and the underdog Whitecaps were in a tough spot. Toronto were in the midst of a 10-match home unbeaten streak as BMO Field was quickly developing a reputation as one of the most raucous venues on the continent.
Vancouver, meanwhile, were in desperate need of a victory to stay in contention after losing their first two tournament games against Montreal.
“We were dying for a win, and we knew that we were going to have to defend well against them,” said Nolly.
The ‘Caps got off to a good start, taking a 1-0 lead into the half, but Toronto were determined to protect their home fort and peppered the Whitecaps goal with shots in the second half.
“They were a very good attacking team,” remembered Nolly. “They had guys like Maurice Edu and a bunch of guys from Europe that did very well. But we stuck together, guys were cleaning up rebounds and I made some saves.”
Not only did he make some saves, he essentially stood on his head, denying Toronto time after time to preserve a famous 1-0 victory over their Canadian rivals.
“That’s definitely up there as one of my most favorite victories,” stated Nolly.
He’ll be hoping to have a new favorite after Wednesday.