Who's the underdog? Impact don't mind Toronto FC claiming favorites tag

MONTREAL – The Montreal Impact had a range of responses to Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney naming his team the favorites heading into their Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Championship series.

On Monday, Montreal defender Hassoun Camara acknowledged that Vanney had a good case to make, based on Toronto's regular-season finish and their playoff results to date.

"Oh, they have a better situation than us," Camara said. "They [host the second leg] at the end, they won 7-0 [on aggregate] against New York [City], so I think they have this position. At the end, we are here just to respect this team. If they think they are better than us, they are free to do it. But us, we are going to concentrate on ourselves and say, 'OK, we're going to work like we did the last few games to show we have a big team too.'"

Vanney quickly dialed back his "favorites" claim, though. TFC's boss subsequently said, "on the field, when the whistle blows, there are no favorites" while addressing an audience of Reds fans on a local Toronto radio station.

"He's the coach of that team so of course he's going to be completely behind his team," Impact captain Patrice Bernier said on Monday. "And in these types of rivalry games you don't want to give something that's going to give the edge to the other team to push even more. That's his feeling, but on our side we have a great belief in our possibilities of going to the final, and that's what we believe in.

“Toronto, that's their case, but we're confident in what we can do. But now we have to show it on the first game tomorrow at home and show that we are going to be able to play a very good game and get an advantage from the first leg before heading to Toronto."

Bernier acknowledged that Montreal began the playoffs with an underdog tag, if not mentality.

"I think at the beginning when we entered it, yeah, because we entered it quite late and also with the home advantage factor in the D.C. [United Knockout Round] game, people had put us aside," said the 37-year-old midfielder. "But I think two teams are at this stage now – there's no really underdogs.

“Now you know that if you're here, you're deserving to be here, so we know what we need to do and what we're doing and we don't pay attention to predictions or everything. We have a big task that we want to get to, which is the final, and we're going to make sure that it starts off with the game [Tuesday]."

Impact coach Mauro Biello preferred not to wade into the labeling debate as this all-Canadian series, the biggest edition of the 401 Derby to date, gets underway.

"I don't look too much into that," Biello said. "I think it's two good teams. Obviously they got the second game at home, that means they did better than us in the season. For us now it's about focusing on what we could control and that's our play, what we could give here at Olympic Stadium and give us an opportunity to go win it in Toronto."