Montreal primed for "intense" rivalry match with big playoff implications

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MONTREAL – Impact forward Dominic Oduro has experienced the rivalry on each side of Montreal's 401 Derby with Toronto FC.

The well-traveled Ghanaian international spent the second half of the 2014 season with Toronto FC, which acquired him from Columbus Crew SC in a trade for forward Alvaro Rey on June 6. He scored two goals in 24 games with the Reds, who traded him to Montreal for allocation money on January 27, 2015.

Oduro has 14 goals in 57 games with the Impact since then, including six goals and six assists in 29 games this season to help the Impact close in on their third straight Audi MLS Cup playoff berth.

"Obviously two different situations when I was there," Oduro said. "I'm not trying to be biased but I like this place better, obviously. The city's really cool. I stayed in Toronto for a little bit so I can't really say that much, but as long as I've been here, it's really fun and I think we're growing."

Now, Oduro will be at the heart of a big showdown as Montreal hosts Toronto at Stade Saputo on Sunday (3 pm ET, ESPN, TSN2, RDS) with playoff implications on the line for each Canadian club. The fourth-place Impact are hoping to clinch a postseason spot and also move closer to hosting a first-round home game, while third-place Toronto is looking to avoid the opening round by finishing first or second in the East.

"I think anybody who looked at the schedule at the start of the year figured that this game would be of high importance, just like the one last year was," Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush said. "They already clinched, but they're looking for their seeding, and we're in a position where we can clinch at home, which is something that I don't think we've done the previous two times we've gotten to the playoffs. So it will be an exciting game and I think both teams will be ready."

The natural rivalry between the two cities has been reflected in many different arenas, particularly in their respective sports teams – and high-stakes games are only fueling the budding fire between these two MLS clubs.

"It is [big], especially with the fact that we need a point to secure a playoff position," Oduro said. "And also it being a rivalry game and [us] going over to beat them, and they're trying to come here to basically revenge the game, it makes it really intense. And we also want to win it for the city."

Oduro is especially looking forward to the backing of the home crowd as the Reds are coming to Montreal seeking to avenge a 1-0 loss to the Impact at BMO Field on Aug. 27.

"No lie, we have a good fan base over here," Oduro said. "You come to games, you hear them. They're really loud and we have that bell that sounds all the time when we score. And they're loud. You can't compare that to Toronto. I mean, Toronto, they only have one section. With us, we have two sections and they're just amazing. They come to games no matter what. Even when things are not falling in place in terms of games winning and all that, they still come out to support and that's really important."

Impact coach Mauro Biello has seen the rivalry increase in intensity — both in the stands and on the field — and he naturally expects that to continue this weekend.

"It's obviously heating up," Biello said. "The fact that Toronto has become a playoff team, and we've been a playoff team last year and hopefully this year. There's that competition between the cities in the other sports, but there's one building and boiling here and we've got some good players on our team and they've got some very good players. They're always exciting games when we play them with a lot of passion and a lot of emotion, and it's great for the fans. And for us, we're expecting a big battle against them and hopefully we can come out on top at home."

And he expects a playoff-type atmosphere, too.

"This game could be a foreshadowing of what we see going forward in the playoffs," Biello said. "The intensity will be high. For sure the focus and the mindset will be there from both teams, and at the end of the day there's a lot of pride that goes into these games and we want to be that team that comes out on top. We know it's going to be difficult and it's going to be a good battle for both teams."

Toronto coach Greg Vanney agreed with that assessment, telling The Toronto Sun that "there will be a lot of intensity" when the two teams meet.

"The more meaningful games, the more viable the rivalry," Vanney said. "These real meaningful games where there's real definitive outcomes I think stirs things up."

Vanney added that the Reds' focus needs to be more about what’s at stake in the present more than seeking to avenge their home loss to Montreal — although he wasn't about to write off the potential to motivate.

"I'm sure when we get down to it at the end of the week there will be more discussion at those kind of things," Vanney said. "But we need to stay focused on the task at hand and not try and come back and change things in the past."

Meanwhile, in addition to improving their lot in the standings, the Impact are conscious of the opportunity to retain the upper hand in the 401 Derby with a possible playoff rematch looming on the horizon.

"We just want to control that dominance over them and we just have to start it on Sunday," Oduro said. "And I can't stress the fact that we need this win to secure our playoff spot and hopefully get a home [field] advantage during the playoffs.

"It's kind of really intense. Everybody's psyched."