TORONTO - While he didn’t guarantee a win, Aron Winter came pretty close Tuesday.
“For sure, 100%,” said Toronto FC’s head coach, when asked if his side is superior to the Impact heading into tonight’s Cup match. “If you saw how many chances we missed in front of goal (the first time), we have got a better team than them.”
After handing the expansion side its first MLS victory last month, the Reds travel back to the Big O for the opening round of the Canadian Championship.
With TFC in search of its first win in 10 tries, Montreal manager Jesse Marsch took a slightly more delicate approach in the buildup to his first Canadian Cup, the winner of which secures entry into this summer’s Champions League.
“It’s a dangerous time to play (Toronto),” Marsch said of the opening leg of an aggregate semifinal. “There’s obviously some desperation there.”
Dropping a record-tying seventh consecutive league game in Salt Lake over the weekend, following Tuesday’s pre-match training, TFC’s last-second loss was still fresh in Winter’s mind. Many of his players fell to the ground when RSL’s Jonny Steele buried a late winner before a 3-2 finish in Utah.
“It’s a disappointment in that we lost the game (in stoppage time) like that,” Winter said. “We’re going to go (to Montreal) to get a good result — a very good result … I think that Montreal, at this moment, is not playing so well.”
But the results tell a vastly different story.
After topping 10-man Toronto three weeks ago, the Impact has managed results in its past two outings — one of which was a hard-fought draw in Washington D.C., the club the Reds are set to welcome this weekend.
With back-to-back league fixtures against Dwayne De Rosario’s black-and-red looming, before departing for Montreal on Tuesday afternoon, Winter explained his plans to use a balanced starting lineup, capable of getting the needed result in Montreal.
“When we get the first victory, everything is going to change,” the Dutchman insisted. “We deserve it … That’s why (I’m) a little disillusioned and disappointed that after seven games we have zero points.”
Ahead of a massive league tie at Kansas City’s Livestrong Park on Saturday, Marsch has his own decisions to make. Despite having a significantly deeper and healthier bench at his disposal, the first-year manager said he plans to use a number of regular contributors in tonight’s opening leg.
“When you play (TFC) in this tournament, it’s a fresh start for them,” Marsch said. “You can almost throw all of their results out the window because you’re playing in a derby.”
Following a pair of weekend league dates, the teams will meet at BMO Field a week from Wednesday for a chance to book a place in the Canadian Cup final against either FC Edmonton or the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Although the Reds remain the only pointless MLS club two months into the MLS season, Winter’s confidence appears to have rubbed off on two of Toronto’s only bright spots this season.
“We’ve outplayed a lot of teams but the results didn’t come,” said Eric Avila, who opened the scoring and provided a penalty in Toronto’s weekend loss in Salt Lake City. “We do have a better team than Montreal.”
After Winter ensured supporters last month the Reds would make a valiant push for the playoffs this season, providing 401 Derby rivals Montreal with a bit of bulletin board material won’t sit well if the Reds come up empty.
“Montreal is a team that we can beat,” Ryan Johnson said. “I think we can win this game and I think we can win Saturday against D.C.”
Heading into the tournament’s fifth edition, the Reds have never lost to the Impact in Cup competition.
Aron Winter v. Jesse Marsch
Impact head coach Marsch has stated his intentions to run out a strong starting lineup tonight. When asked during Tuesday’s media availability, Winter skated around the issue, hinting tonight’s match wouldn’t feature Toronto’s most competitive group. If the two stay true to their pre-match words, it’s possible the home side will have a starting group with significantly more experience than its counterparts. Although the match will ultimately be decided by the players on the field, roster decisions from both management groups will likely have a big say in the proceedings.
SAME OLD: Two bad goals — an own goal and one from a set piece — doomed the Reds in Salt Lake over the weekend. Failure to once again cut down on the freebies will see Toronto drop its sixth consecutive match.
ORGANIZATION: Toronto failed to pick up a point in the late stages over the weekend because the match became stretched. When defending, TFC must stay compact and organized in the defensive third or risk conceding multiple goals for the seventh time this season.
ROAD GOALS: A draw involving goals or even a 2-1 loss isn’t a bad result for Toronto. Failure to score will present a problem in the return leg due to the away goals tie-breaker.
CUP QUICK HITS
The Impact won the tournament’s first edition in 2008 as a second division side …Toronto FC is in search of its fourth consecutive Canadian Championship after winning two of its three titles in controversial fashion … In 2009, the Whitecaps claimed the Impact threw the final match of the tournament after already being eliminated. During last year’s tournament, the Whitecaps were a half hour away from capturing the crown before a rain storm forced the match to be replayed … Toronto hasn’t lost in the competition since June 2, 2009 — a 2-0 loss in Vancouver … Danny Koevermans and Nick Soolsma have been ruled out for the match.