Toronto, Montreal face tricky opponents in Canadian Championship semifinals

Toronto FC celebrate - Jordan Hamilton goal

One MLS team has already fallen. And as the semifinal stage of the 2019 Canadian Championship begins on Wednesday night with the first legs in each series, Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact will face stiff competition.

In one series the three-time defending champions TFC square off against USL Championship club Ottawa Fury FC. In the other, the Impact face Canadian Premier League Spring Competition table-toppers Cavalry FC.

But who has more to fear?

At first glance it would appear that a more established Fury side would be a sterner test than opponents from the nascent CPL.

Toronto FC

Ottawa enter the contest mid-table in the USL Eastern Conference, securely in a playoff position through 21 matches. They are in decent form, having lost just once in their last five matches, and though pushed hard by HFX Wanderers FC in the previous round, were able to navigate past the upstarts in cup play, advancing 5-4 on aggregate.

They're strong at home, having lost just once through 11 matches, stingy at the back and have some quality going forward – Mour Samb and Wal Fall have seven goals apiece, while Fury captain Carl Haworth and Christiano Francois each have six, and they recently added former Orlando City SC attacker Hadji Barry.

Toronto have been inconsistent in recent weeks, winning and losing against the New York Red Bulls, dropping points at home to the Houston Dynamo and beating FC Cincinnati by slim margins, but they have faced provincial rivals Ottawa before.

The two met at the same stage in the past two editions of the competition. And though the Fury took the first-ever meeting, TFC have advanced on each occasion, winning the next three matches by a combined score of 8-0.

Montreal Impact

Where the Reds have been inconsistent, Montreal have been unrecognizable from week to week, emerging from a four-match losing streak to beat Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union 4-0 one weekend, only to lose 6-3 to Western Conference basement-dwelling Colorado Rapids the next.

Ignacio Piatti is back from injury and Finnish midfielder Lassi Lappalainen bagged a brace on his debut against the Union. But it cannot be overlooked that l’Impact have already squared off against a CPL side and made it through by only the slimmest of margins.

The Impact advanced to this stage with a 3-2 aggregate victory over former TFC midfielder Jimmy Brennan's York9 FC, managing a 2-2 draw in the opening leg away and winning 1-0 at home.

While those may seem comfortable enough results, they mask that Montreal needed two penalty kicks and a horrendous giveaway to score against York9.

Brennan's side have looked good over recent weeks, but through the opening months of the inaugural CPL season, Tommy Wheeldon Jr.'s Cavalry have been the class of the league.

They began the season with seven straight wins, handily taking the opening competition by five points over their nearest rivals, Forge FC, who they also knocked out of the cup in a feisty series.

Having already secured their place in the two-legged end-of-season Championship, they have not taken their foot off the gas in the Fall Competition, winning their first three matches and were only a late penalty kick away from making it four, instead forced to settle for a 1-1 draw and a still-unbeaten start.

They are not your normal expansion side either, having been propelled forward from 2018 PDL Champions, Calgary Foothills FC. And they are well-rested, with a full 10 days to scout and prepare for Montreal.

It was the Calgary, Alberta-based Cavalry who knocked out the Vancouver Whitecaps in the previous round, navigating a 0-0 draw in the home leg and finishing the series at BC Place with a 2-1 win.

In doing so, Cavalry became the first so-called smaller club to knock off an MLS side in the two-legged history of the competition.

Stacked from top to bottom with both domestic and international talent, Cavalry's roster includes plenty of names familiar to MLS watchers, including goalkeeper Marco Carducci (formerly of the Whitecaps), Sergio Camargo (formerly of TFC) and Julian Buscher (formerly of D.C. United).

Long-time Canadian national team midfielder Nik Ledgerwood and defender Mason Trafford provide some experience to the spine. Elijah Adekugbe, brother of former Vancouver fullback Sam, brings steel to the midfield. And the likes of Dominique Malonga, Nathan Mavila, Jordan Brown and Jose Escalante add some international flair and nous, while Nico Pasquotti and Dominic Zator, a former Whitecaps 2 center back who scored the second goal in Vancouver, are some of the rising stars of the league.

Toronto may well have a Battle of Ontario to contend with, but it is Montreal who will have their hands full.