‘Something in the air’: TFC ready for CanChamp series vs. Impact

TORONTO – Jacob Shaffelburg has only been a member of Toronto FC for a handful of months.

But, on the eve of the Canadian Championship finals first-leg match vs. the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo on Wednesday, the 19-year-old forward from Port Williams, Nova Scotia didn’t mince words for even one second.

“Always Toronto. I’m not a big fan of Montreal, even being from Nova Scotia,” he replied, when asked how he viewed the 401 Derby from the comforts of home.

Perhaps the sentiment is true and deeply rooted, or, perhaps this young player has acclimated particularly quickly to life and love (and hate) in the city of Toronto, where a fondness for the Impact is about as rare as an empty streetcar seat in rush hour.

In any case, word of his lifelong preference will certainly fall on welcome ears among his teammates, including TFC captain Michael Bradley, who has played against the Impact more than a few times over the last six years.

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“I’ve said it a lot over the last few years; these Toronto-Montreal games, they’re special,” Bradley told reporters after the team’s training session on Tuesday.

“There’s something in the air when these two teams walk out onto the field. It’s not made up, it’s not commercialized, there’s no need to play it up because it’s reality. It’s there. We’ve always enjoyed these games. We’ve had some incredible series with them. The contrast with the cities, the clubs, the colours, the philosophies in some way, it makes for interesting, entertaining games. We have big respect for them, and I like to think they have big respect for us. When we step onto the field, these are big games.”

He’s not wrong, of course. There is no single rivalry more intense in Canadian soccer – perhaps in all of North America, barring a few specific Mexican clashes – that produces as many memorable, intense, and often surreal moments of magic, particularly in the Canadian Championship.

Kyle Bekker suits up for Toronto FC during the 2016 Canadian Championship. (Canada Soccer).
Kyle Bekker suits up for Toronto FC during the 2016 Canadian Championship vs. Montreal Impact. (Canada Soccer).

Take, for instance, the “Miracle in Montreal,” when a determined group of Reds took on and defeated the Impact 6-1 to claim the 2009 Voyageurs Cup – a match so memorable, it even has its own Wikipedia entry.

Or, perhaps TFC coach Greg Vanney and his side fondly reminisce upon the 2017 edition of the tournament, which ended in their favour when Sebastian Giovinco scored a stunning series winner in the 95th minute of play.

On Wednesday night in Montreal (7:30 p.m. ET/available on OneSoccer), yet another Canadian Championship final will play out between these two bitter foes, before it’s all wrapped up on Sept. 25 in Toronto at BMO Field for the second leg.

Vanney expects a wounded Impact, currently sitting underneath the playoff line in the MLS standings, to put their best foot forward.

Or, at least, to try to.

“When you’re going through years that are up and down and are a little bit challenging, you find yourself trying to convince yourself that you’re ready for a game like this, when, really, you’re just trying to find where that stable bottom is to build off of it,” Vanney mused.

“If the game doesn’t feel right to them early on, or if we get something going early, they’ll still be searching for that foundation. That’s our job when we go there; we have to make it difficult for them.

“We don’t have to win the tournament tomorrow; we need to make sure they get nothing going, snatch a goal away, and stay solid defensively.”

Bradley agrees with his coach’s assessment.

“The way things play out over these next few weeks determines a lot,” Bradley explained. “When you look at the standings, where they are, their season is going to play out over the next week to 10 days. And, to a certain extent, everybody’s will, but the reality is their margin of error is probably smaller than others.

“It doesn’t take much to look at the standings and realize if you’re below the playoff line, your margin of error isn’t much. These two games, Canadian Championship, Champions League berth, and everything that comes with it – the pride – if you can win a Championship like this, beating your big rival in the final, it counts for a lot.

“We expect them to come with everything … and we will do no different.”