As Toronto FC captain Jim Brennan made his way off the BMO Field turf into the club's dressing room yesterday, he quipped: "Go Leafs."
Being a born and bred Toronto boy, Brennan is a Maple Leafs fan.
But the reason for his impromptu cheer was to emphasize a point he had just made to a handful of media guys following TFC's practice yesterday.
Brennan believes that the inaugural Canada Cup series, which begins for Toronto FC tonight at Stade Saputo in a game against the host Montreal Impact, is the beginning of a what will become a great rivalry between to the two sides -- a rivalry he hopes will one day mirror that of the Leafs and Canadiens.
"It's great competition for the league, especially when you get two close teams with Montreal and Toronto, you get a great derby there and it will be something special," he said. "I think it would be big, almost a Leafs-Habs sort of thing, except for soccer."
The Canada Cup is a round robin tournament featuring Toronto FC of Major League Soccer against the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps, two clubs that play in the United Soccer Leagues, a loop one notch below MLS. The winner of the round robin will go on to represent Canada at the CONCACAF Champions League.
Both the Impact and Whitecaps hope to move up to the MLS in the near future and players on Toronto FC believe that would be great for the league, and soccer in Canada, for that to happen.
"I think adding two more Canadian franchises in this league will grow the country's program tenfold," said Toronto FC and Canadian national team goalkeeper Greg Sutton, a native of Hamilton. "Look how the U.S. national team has done since the MLS was created, they've had great progression and we hope that will be the same with our national program."
Toronto FC coach John Carver said following practice yesterday that he will start his strongest lineup possible for tonight's Canada Cup match at the new Stade Saputo, though his side will be without two starters because of international duties.
Midfielder Amado Guevara is with the Honduras national side for a friendly on May 30 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. against Venezuela, while midfielder Maurice Edu will play for the American side in a friendly at Wembley Stadium on May 28 against England. Carver scoffed at suggestions that tonight's Canada Cup match is not as important to his squad as a regular season MLS game would be.
"This for me is like a derby match, a Newcastle-Sunderland game or an Arsenal-Tottenham game, or a Celtic-Rangers game," said Carver, who played and coached at Newcastle United. "Within minutes of the game finishing on Saturday against D.C. (United), I stressed the importance of this game and I said, 'look around the dressing room and ask the Canadian boys how important this game is.' On a scale of 1-10, it's 10.
"We're here to win it, we want to win it, it's an opportunity for us to get some silverware, to progress and get some decent quality competition," he continued, adding that he sees legions of fans travelling back and forth between the two sides for future Canada Cups -- and when the Impact make it into MLS.
"I've only been here (in Toronto) for five minutes really, and I've seen the rivalry within the hockey circles and that's huge. So why shouldn't soccer be any different?" he asked.