MONTREAL – With so much at stake, tension will be palpable on Decision Day.
Sprinkle in some rivalry seeds, and you’ve got a must-watch game. One that is well worth discovering if you’ve never done so.
Some of the players who feature in the Montreal-Toronto rivalry can’t wrap their heads around why it doesn’t get more press, league-wide. The emotion, the political and cultural background, the history. What’s not to like for a soccer fan?
And if you’ve never experienced it, this Sunday is as good an opportunity as any to do so (5 pm ET; TSN4, RDS - Canada, MLS Live - US). Simply put, the winning team will either finish second (if Toronto win, and D.C. United and the Columbus Crew draw) or third in the Eastern Conference, thus enjoying a significant advantage going into the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs.
But in any case, for Montreal captain Patrice Bernier, this is already a playoff game.
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“In the [rest of the] league, there’s Seattle-Portland, Cascadia Cup and all that, and people don’t really understand the rivalry between [Montreal and Toronto],” Bernier told reporters earlier this week. “They think it’s about the [NHL’s] Canadiens against the Maple Leafs, but the two cities share a lot of pre-MLS history. Maybe that with Michael Bradley being there, there's an American character that can turn people’s heads that way, and [Sebastian] Giovinco doing really well.
“But Didier [Drogba] has scored a lot of goals, Giovinco too, they’ll be the headliners of that game,” Bernier continued. “But no, I don’t think the [rest of the] league grasps just how much the two cities and the two clubs want to do better than the other to prove that their approach is better than the other’s.”
So far, Toronto have had the edge. Since Montreal joined MLS in 2012, TFC have defeated the Impact eight times in all competitions while losing five and drawing five.
This will thus be the 19th game between the two clubs in four years. Far from diluting the product, the sheer amount of games – attributable to Amway Canadian Championship ties – has given both teams more reasons to rile the other up: Montreal have so far failed to win at BMO Field, while TFC have triumphed twice at Stade Saputo.
But many fans have yet to really appreciate the rivalry’s essence: a Rivalry Power Rankings exercise shaped by fan voting in May 2015 on MLSsoccer.com placed Montreal-Toronto in ninth position, behind the then-still inactive Red Bulls-NYCFC rivalry.
“It doesn’t bother us. It doesn’t demotivate us,” defender Hassoun Camara said. “On the contrary, I think we can prove that this can be a fine classic matchup in this league. But more than anything, we want to focus on ourselves. We don’t need to ask ourselves whether the [rest of the] league keeps such a close eye on this matchup. We’re already highly motivated, and we’ll offer a good show at home, I think.”
And think about this: eight scenarios of possible results on Decision Day lead to another clash between Montreal and Toronto mere days later, in the Knockout Round of the playoffs.
“Maybe if there’s a playoff game, they’ll see [how important it is],” Bernier said. “Of course, this isn‘t a hockey game with fights and all, but with Sunday’s game, they’ll see that, even though it’s a regular season game, there’s an emotional approach that evokes the playoffs.”
Added Ignacio Piatti: “Our mentality is winning on Sunday, because it's an important game for us – and for [the city of] Montreal, too. Toronto is a derby. We have to win. Like I said, we have to finish third to play at home. If we finish fifth, we go on the road, but then we have to win as well.”