OAKVILLE - Any time you are expected to win, trouble could be lurking just around the corner.
Toronto FC plays host to the Montreal Impact at 8 p.m. Wednesday at BMO Field in the first game of the 2010 Nutrilite Canadian Championship.
The winner of the three-team, home-and-home derby advances to the CONCACAF level of the world club championship.
Toronto prevailed last season, though it wasn’t easy despite the fact both Montreal and the Vancouver Whitecaps competed in the generally inferior United Soccer League.
In fact, Toronto needed every goal in its final game, a 6-1 victory over the Impact at Saputo Stadium, to move on, eliminating the Whitecaps on goal differential.
The trouble this time is that Toronto FC is banged up following its physical 2-0 win over the Seattle Sounders on Sunday. With a league game against defending MLS champion Real Salt Lake this Saturday, coach Preki can’t afford to play his A-team all night either.
However, a loss Wednesday would be demoralizing and open the door to team critics, who have yet to be convinced Toronto is a playoff-calibre outfit.
“The schedule hasn’t really been great for us, especially when you have so many new guys in here trying to learn how to play together,” Preki said Tuesday following the team’s indoor practice at the Pine Glen Soccer Centre in Oakville. “When you play so many games so close, it doesn’t give you much time to heal, either. But it is what it is.”
The Reds are 2-3 in MLS this season, having won both starts at home. Captain Dwayne De Rosario has accounted for five of the team’s six goals, though he expects Montreal will be tough to score on.
“I anticipate Montreal is going to try and come out with a 0-0 tie, or 1-0 game and take it back to Montreal and hope for the best in terms of (goal) aggregate,” he said.
It’s not clear how much De Rosario will play tonight, though if it were up to him, it might be a lot.
He appears to like this all-Canadian tournament.
“It’s a thing for pride, it’s a thing for the city and it’s a tournament we obviously want to be a part of because you know it leads up to CONCACAF and then the world club championships,” said the Scarborough native, who copped MLS player-of-the-week honours a day earlier.
On the other hand, he expects the reserve players Toronto starts tonight won’t lack motivation.
“Sometimes the guys coming in are more hungry than the guys actually playing,” he said.
“I think the guys coming in are going to step up and want to prove themselves.”
The Impact is the defending United Soccer League champion, having upset the Whitecaps in a two-game final last October.
The victory earned interim head coach Marc Dos Santos consideration for coach-of-the-year honours and landed him the full-time gig with the club.
The Impact has played just two league games this season, falling 2-0 to the Austin Aztex, before earning a late 1-1 tie against Portland Timbers in their home opener Sunday at Saputo Stadium.
The Impact is led by Panamanian Roberto Brown, who scored seven goals in 25 games last season. Former Toronto FC defender Adam Braz, who appeared in his 125th game with the Impact on Sunday, is another player to watch. Team captain Nevio Pizzolitto has the Impact’s lone goal this year, while goalie Matt Jordan backstopped Montreal to an unlikely Canadian title in 2008.
Like De Rosario, Toronto midfielder Julian de Guzman believes, congested schedule or not, the Reds need to win the tournament
“It means a lot to the guys, the club, the organization, the city and the fans to be playing at that level which is CONCACAF,” de Guzman said.
“This is a good chance for us to raise ourselves to a higher level, a higher standard.”