May 6, 2009 MLS Toronto FC vs Vancouver Whitecaps (from

Reds set for Vancouver challenge
Nutrilite Canadian Championship begins Wednesday
05/05/2009 04:16 PM
By Mark Polishuk / Staff

TORONTO -- With the second annual Nutrilite Canadian Championship is about to kick off, Toronto FC is looking to Wednesday night's match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC at BMO Field with both national pride and redemption in mind. "When [Toronto] is playing Montreal and Vancouver it doesn't matter what sport it is," said TFC captain Jim Brennan. "It's always a tough game and I think a lot of times tactics go out the window because passion gets involved. It'll be a battle again but it'll be one where we've got to be on the front foot from the get-go."

TFC was the prohibitive favorites in last year's inaugural tournament against the USL First Division sides from Vancouver and Montreal. But it was the Impact who ended up winning the round-robin tournament with eight points (2-1-1) and advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League, where they made a cinderella run to the quarterfinal round.

While Toronto beat and tied the Impact in their two matches, it was really Whitecaps FC who proved to be the biggest obstacle between the Reds and Champions League glory. Vancouver defeated Toronto 1-0 in front of a raucous Canada Day crowd last July at BMO Field, and then scored an equalizer in the 87th minute to reach a 2-2 draw against TFC at Swangard Stadium.

Reds interim head coach Chris Cummins said that his team is fully prepared for the challenge of the reigning USL-1 champions, and hopes to avenge last season's upset loss on their home turf.

"We've got three DVDs of their last few games and we've had a good look at that. Timmy Regan does a lot of scouting for us and [assistant coach] Nick Dasovic knows them very, very well being from Vancouver," Cummins said. "We've got lots of information on them, how they play, the type of players they have and the type of team they are. We've done our homework. We'll go out there and play our game, we won't worry too much about them, but we'll be aware of certain players and certain areas they play in.

"It's important that we win our home games. We'll be going with an attacking formation to win the home games. Vancouver are going to come in very organized, they're good athletes, they get it down and play in the right areas. They're not afraid to turn you if they have to."

Aside from advance scouting, the Reds know what to expect from the Whitecaps since several players on the two sides have played together and against each other in various leagues and international competitions. In Brennan's case, his familiarity with some Whitecaps extends back decades.

"WIth Marty [Nash] and Marco Reda, I've known them since we were kids," Brennan said. "It's good to see them back in town. The Whitecaps have got a great organization. I'm glad they're in MLS, it's great for Canadian soccer. But when they cross that line it doesn't matter who they are. We want three points and to win that game."

Wednesday's match will not just renew the Toronto-Vancouver rivalry to come in future Canadian Championships, but it will also provide a glimpse into the 2011 MLS season. It was announced last March that a Vancouver organization run by the Whitecaps ownership group would be joining Major League Soccer in 2011, with this new team representing the latest step in Whitecaps FC's soccer tradition on the West Coast.

Given Vancouver's MLS future and Montreal's status as reigning Canadian champions, nobody with TFC is taking either team lightly just because they're from a different league.

"Last year was the first year that [the tournament] was in existence, so I think a lot of these guys didn't know what the USL had to offer," said midfielder Dwayne De Rosario. "The USL is a good league and I think [TFC] got an awakening last year. ... We just have to go about it with the same mentality that we go into for every weekend in our league and not take them lightly."

The Whitecaps match will be the second of five games in a 15-day stretch for Toronto, and the congested fixture list will likely lead to some lineup changes for both Wednesday and Saturday night's league game against D.C. United in Washington. Cummins said that he will consult with every player individually to monitor their fitness levels and will rest certain players if need be, but the coach said that TFC will never field a lineup without the intention of winning the game.

"I'm not one that's not going to play certain players just to rest them for the weekend," Cummins said. "It doesn't matter if it's a friendly, cup game or a league game -- we're a professional staff and we want to win every game we go into.

"I went to have a meal yesterday and I think I wrote down eight different teams to play for Wednesday. That's why it's important that I have a good staff around me. They have good ideas as well and I'll be listening to them."

While the coaching staff will have their hands full in figuring out minutes, De Rosario said that the onus is also on the players to do all they can themselves to stay prepared.

"We want to represent Toronto and MLS and do well in this tournament," De Rosario said. "We've got to be mindful of our bodies and just be very smart. It's a lot of games in a short time on turf, which takes a lot out of your body. ... It's man management, guys being pros and knowing themselves and communicating with the coaching staff."

Any lack of fitness might be overcome by enthusiasm. While Canadians like Brennan and De Rosario are obviously excited to be playing for their national championship, the excitement has also rubbed off on TFC's non-Canucks. Chad Barrett joined the Reds after the 2008 tournament had already been completed, and the striker is eager to join in the experience.

"It was a big deal last year, this team was expected to win and they didn't, so there's expectations for us again," Barrett said. "I'm going to address it just like any other game, but I'm sure I'll get into the whole atmosphere of it and get hyped up. I'm sure the Canadians love the battle of the Canadians."

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