Toronto FC are back from a fruitful road trip where the Reds held the MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids scoreless on Sunday, but not before taking an important away goal through Maicon Santos last Wednesday, drawing Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1-1 in the first leg of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship. That outcome sets up Toronto well for the mouth-watering return fixture at BMO Field, it's Toronto vs. Vancouver, NCC Final Second Leg (8 pm ET on Rogers Sportsnet).
This is the most important match to date for either side in 2011. Toronto have won the NCC title two years running and a three-peat would put the Reds in a favorable position to return to the group stage of the 2011-12 edition of the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL). A scoreless draw or an outright victory would put Toronto through to the CCL preliminary round against Nicaragua's Real Estelí FC in the Preliminary Round of the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) in late July and early August. Real Estelí qualified for the CCL after a 3-2 aggregate success over Deportivo Walter Ferreti in the two-leg Nicaraguan Primera División Clausura final.
It would also mark the first trophy for head coach and technical director Aron Winter since arriving in Toronto in January with a view to long-term success. Toronto captain Maicon Santos is the leading goal scorer in the four-team NCC knockout tourney with three from as many games.
Teitur Thordarson's side need to score at least once in the second leg to cancel out TFC's away goal from last week's first leg in Vancouver and boost their chances of winning the four-club competition.
Wednesday's Nutrilite Canadian Championship final, second leg, between Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC from BMO Field in Toronto, Ontario, kicks off at 8 pm ET and is live on Rogers Sportsnet ONE and on sportsnet.ca. TorontoFC.ca will host a live chat with Asif Hossain from 7:45 pm ET. You can comment on the match and watch exclusive highlights from the game.
NUTRILITE CANADIAN CHAMPIONSHIP
Unlike the first three editions of the competition — in which Whitecaps FC, Toronto FC and Montreal Impact contested the Voyageurs Cup in a round-robin format — this year's competition has been contested by four Canadian clubs. Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal were joined by FC Edmonton, who are playing their inaugural season in the second-tier NASL. As a result, the tournament was modified to a home-and-away semifinal stage followed by a home-and-away championship final series. In the semifinals, Whitecaps FC needed extra time to defeat Montreal 2-1 on aggregate, while Toronto FC made easy work of FC Edmonton with a 4-0 aggregate victory. As the highest-seeded team in the final, Toronto FC chose to open the final in Vancouver last week before hosting the second leg on Wednesday.
During this two-match final series, if both clubs are level on aggregate over the two games, the 'Away Goals' rule will be used to determine the series winner (i.e.: the club that scores the most goals on the road over the two games). If the 'Away Goals' rule does not produce a result (i.e.: both teams have scored the same number of goals at home and away), then two 15-minute periods of extra time will be played at the end of the second leg. If, during extra time, both teams score the same number of goals, the visiting team will win the series on the strength of the number of 'Away Goals' they have scored in the extra-time period. If no goals are scored during extra time, the series will then be determined with a penalty shootout.
The winners of the 2011 Nutrilite Canadian Championship not only claim the Voyageurs Cup and bragging rights as Canada's top club, they will also represent Canada in the 2011-12 edition of the CONCACAF Champions League, where they will play the top clubs in North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The winners of the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League title will then represent the confederation at the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup.
Toronto FC have been juggling a busy schedule of league and NCC games, with their schedule having impacted on the fitness of Winter's squad. Though they performed well in a goalless draw at Colorado Rapids on Sunday, the Dutchman has been challenged by injuries to some key players in recent weeks.
A groin injury to striker Alan Gordon saw the experienced MLS campaigner miss the team's trip to Vancouver and Colorado, while injuries to midfielders Jacob Peterson (ankle) and Tony Tchani (knee) meant the pair was unavailable to face Colorado on the weekend. It remains to be seen if the trio will be in Winter's selection plans for Wednesday, though TFC will be boosted by having a fresh Julian de Guzman available after the Canadian international sat out the Colorado game through suspension. After sitting out the first leg in Vancouver, Javier Martina and Mikael Yourassowsky put in solid performances against the Rapids and should be in strong consideration to face the 'Caps.
After playing matches every three or four days for the past weeks, Whitecaps FC have had a week to assess and prepare for this crucial second leg in Toronto, as they were idle from MLS action over the Victoria Day weekend. This allowed Thordarson's squad to earn some much-needed rest and recovery after a very busy schedule of league and Voyageurs Cup games. The 'Caps will also be encouraged by their performance against TFC in the first leg, having created several quality goal-scoring chances at Empire Field.
Wednesday's match at BMO Field will be the first at TFC's home for several Whitecaps FC players, including midfielder Terry Dunfield. The Vancouver native will be keen to familiarize himself with the surroundings, as he will have the chance to dawn Canada's colors at the stadium in a friendly against Ecuador on the following Wednesday. On Monday, Dunfield — along with as TFC’s de Guzman — was called up to Stephen Hart's Canada squad for the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which runs from June 5 to 25 in the United States.
Whitecaps FC are without strikers Atiba Harris (knee), Long Tan (foot) and midfielder John Thorrington (calf) for Wednesday's match in Southern Ontario.
Wednesday's second leg will be the ninth all-time meeting between Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC. Before their MLS clash on March 19, the first six meetings came in the last three editions of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship when Vancouver was a North American second-division club. Since 2008, Whitecaps FC have amassed a favorable record of three wins, one defeat, and four draws vs. TFC. This includes a record of one win, one defeat, and one draw versus The Reds in Toronto. Following Wednesday's NCC second leg at BMO Field, Whitecaps FC will return to Southern Ontario to face Aron Winter's side in MLS action on Wednesday, June 29.