Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC still might feel like a fairly new rivalry to many MLS fans given their recent additions to the league as expansion teams.
But the history runs deeper than you think. Here’s all you need to know about this weekend’s Rivalry Week matchup at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium (4 pm ET, TSN/RDS in Canada, MLS Live in the US): A soon-to-be-new MLS record 4,200 traveling supporters will be making the trek from Toronto (TFC fans already hold the all-time MLS record for traveling supporters with 2,400 in Columbus back in 2008).
“We absolutely expect to beat that record on Saturday,” Toronto FC senior director of business operations Paul Bierne told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Monday afternoon. “We worked with the front office in Montreal to arrange for a special allotment of tickets to be made available to TFC fans. As a result, over 5,000 tickets have been requested. We’ll see how many actually travel to Montreal. After this week’s win against Sporting Kansas City, I expect it will be a good solid number.”
Highlights: Montreal vs. Toronto, April 7, 2012
LISTEN: Toronto's Ryan Nelsen and Montreal's Davy Arnaud on ExtraTime Radio
It’s no surprise: “Toronto vs. Montreal” has always carried a special significance in the world of Canadian sports. While most people think about hockey first – the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens make for the longest standing rivalry in Canadian sports at 90 years and counting – the competition between the two cities also became evident between the Argos and the Alouettes in the Canadian Football League and the Blue Jays and what used to be the Expos in Major League Baseball.
There’s nothing manufactured about these feuds. Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact are as natural rivals as you can have in MLS. It’s not just sports: Their regional proximity, the culture clashes and Canadian history all contribute to the electricity in the air when they face each other.
Highlights: Montreal vs. Toronto, June 27, 2012
“It is certainly the biggest rivalry for TFC,” Toronto FC supporter Campbell Blake told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week. “It dates back to the Voyageurs Cup beginning in 2008. Toronto have played the most games against Montreal in that competition.
“Prior to Montreal, you had a rivalry with Columbus, but I think that was pretty manufactured. Now we have this team five hours away in Canada and there is quite a special thing going on.”
Although they're the most recent arrival in MLS, the Impact celebrate their 20th anniversary this year. Thus they've been around longer than Toronto FC, who were formed in 2006.
But the soccer rivalry between the two cities go way back.
“Last season was our first in the league, but as we all know, Toronto and Montreal are cities that have always wanted to prove that they're the best anyway,” Montreal-born Impact stalwart and Canadian international Patrice Bernier told MLSsoccer.com. “Even in the A-League, when Montreal would play the Toronto Lynx, you could feel tension between the two cities. Last year, we played five games against them because of the Canadian Championship tournament. Those games always have a different feel, especially for me since I’m from Montreal. It’s Toronto, you know.”
Highlights: Montreal vs. Toronto, Oct. 20, 2012
Added Toronto FC and Canadian national team midfielder Terry Dunfield: “We definitely don’t need to build the rivalry from the ground [up]. There is already something there. There is a lot of passion in the games.”
Ultimately, the battle for superiority between the two Canadian clubs is very much about bragging rights between two municipalities whose citizens each feel their city is the best in Canada and who want their clubs to represent that belief.
“Montreal is a team that we always want to beat,” former TFC captain and current assistant coach Jim Brennan told MLSsoccer.com. “The two cities are quite close. We have different cultures. When it comes to any sport, we always want to get one up on Montreal. We think we are the big city, which we are, the one where everything happens. I don’t think they can handle that.”
Added Impact assistant coach and former player Mauro Biello: “It’s always an important game for us. It’s always a little bit more than only a soccer game. It’s always about proving which team is the best in Canada, every single time we face each other.”