TORONTO — Midfielder Julian de Guzman has played in Spain’s La Liga and the Champions League for Deportivo La Coruña. He has played in international competition for Canada. And he has played in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship for Toronto FC.
And, yes, in spite of his vast experience at the top levels of the game for both club and country, the NCC is a big deal for him and a big deal for the clubs involved.
“It means a hell of a lot,” de Guzman said. “This is probably the biggest tournament in the country.”
Toronto FC will be trying to win the Canadian championship for the third season in a row when they play the Vancouver Whitecaps at BMO Field on Saturday (12:30 pm ET, Rogers Sportsnet One, sportsnet.ca).
“To always be champion it means a lot for the club and for Canadians such as myself to carry the trophy around for a full year,” de Guzman said. “To defend this title it has a lot of meaning for myself and for the club and a lot of other Canadians who represent Toronto FC.
“And I’m sure it also has a lot of meaning also for the Canadians who play for Vancouver.”
The teams already have played a Major League Soccer match this week, also at BMO Field, with Toronto winning 1-0 on Nick Soolsma’s second-half penalty kick on Wednesday. The teams have split their two MLS games this season.
De Guzman was on the bench but did not play in Wednesday’s match as he comes back from a strained calf. A host of regulars on both sides missed the game — a clear indication that both teams consider Saturday’s final to be the main event.
“All the Canadian teams are going to do what it takes to win this title and then have the chance to play at the international level in the CONCACAF [Champions] League,” de Guzman explained. “That’s something that we enjoyed doing last season and we’re definitely motivated to repeat that opportunity again.”
De Guzman has not been able to play for Toronto FC since returning from playing for Canada in the Gold Cup. The calf problem is something he says that he had even before the tournament. He had only one training session with TFC on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s match. But he trained Friday with the team at BMO Field and was listed among those who could play Satiurday.
The teams played to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the final at Vancouver on May 18. The second leg at Toronto a week later was abandoned after 60 minutes because of bad weather with Vancouver leading 1-0. That game is being replayed from the start.
“It’s always important when you play in a final,” head coach Aron Winter said. “It’s always special and it’s at home, it’s nice.”
TFC could have some other injured players back besides de Guzman. Alan Gordon, Tony Tchani, Jacob Peterson and Maicon Santos also could be available.