Toronto FC and Montreal Impact renew rivalry, this time with trophy on the line
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TORONTO — Emotions run deep when Toronto FC plays in Montreal, so perhaps it's not surprising that midfielder Jonathan Osorio was a little unsettled at finding himself in the Impact dressing room last week.
Osorio was with Canada for an international friendly against Curacao and the home side got the Montreal locker-room.
"It was weird for me, personally," said Osorio.
The 25-year-old midfielder from Brampton, Ont., will be back at Saputo Stadium, this time in the visitors' room, on Wednesday when Toronto meets Montreal in the first leg of the Canadian Championship final.
Toronto is 3-8-3 all-time in Montreal in MLS regular-season, playoff and Canadian Championship play since the Impact entered the league in 2012.
"It's not a place that I myself or my team feels welcome at all," said Osorio.
"It's a nice stadium," he added. "And they definitely have fans that support their team."
But there is no love lost between the two, a rivalry that has been ratcheted up of late thanks to the playoffs.
"I always think rivalries grow whenever the importance of the games grow," said Toronto coach Greg Vanney, who doesn't mind entering hostile ground.
"I like that it's a little bit unfriendly," he added. "It becomes you and your team, and us against them. That's what it should be about. That's why those rivalries are so special."
In 2015, Montreal humiliated visiting Toronto 3-0 to spoil TFC's first ever post-season appearance. That same year, the Impact bundled Toronto out of the Canadian Championship in the semifinals on the away-goals rule thanks to an 84th-minute strike by former TFC forward Dominic Oduro.
Toronto got its revenge in 2016, dispatching Montreal 7-5 on aggregate in a wild and woolly Eastern Conference final that saw the Impact win 3-2 at Olympic Stadium before Toronto rallied for a 5-2 victory at BMO Field.
The two teams have not played since, with three regular-season games to follow the Canadian final.
"I imagine we'll pick up right where we left off," said veteran defender Drew Moor.
League-leading Toronto (9-2-5) arrives on a roll. Since mid-July last season, it is 22-7-10 in all competitions — two of those losses came in playoff series Toronto ultimately won while another was in an MLS Cup final that ended in a penalty shootout.
On the other side of the coin, two of the losses were to Montreal.
With the exception of the MLS Cup final loss to Seattle, Toronto has not lost at home since Oct. 1 (2-1 to D.C. United).
"The form right now is pretty good," said Moor.
Toronto is also healthy, with the exception of striker Tosaint Ricketts (hamstring) and defender Nick Hagglund (knee).
But Vanney will have to choose his lineup carefully with Toronto hosting New England on Friday. Montreal can expect to see Michael Bradley, given the Toronto captain is suspended for Friday's game due to yellow card accumulation.
It's been a rockier road for the Impact this season. Hampered by a poor start, Montreal (4-4-6) stands ninth in the Eastern Conference although it is unbeaten in its last four outings (2-0-2) albeit conceding a stoppage-time goal on the weekend in a 3-3 draw in Orlando.
One thing is sure Wednesday. Toronto will be looking to silence the bell that rings endlessly every time the Impact score.
"I don't like that bell, that's for sure," said Osorio.
"I hate the bell," echoed Moor.
"The bell is annoying, for sure," added Vanney.
The Canadian Championship winner normally automatically earns a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. But that is not the case for Toronto, despite winning its fifth Canadian crown last year, due to a change in format for the Champions League.
Toronto will get the berth if it wins the Canadian competition this year. If Montreal wins, the two teams will meet in an August playoff to determine who advances.
Toronto has hoisted the Voyageurs Cup trophy five times, defeating Vancouver every time in the final. Montreal has won three times, beating Toronto twice in the final.
The Canadian Championship winner also earns a team bonus of US$50,000.
NOTES: Vanney says he will lose his U.S. internationals to the Gold Cup after this week's New England game. The Canadians depart after the June 27 return leg of the Canadian championship.
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