Canadian pride and a sense of injustice will be fuelling Toronto FC as it opens defence of its Canadian championship on the road Tuesday against the USL’s Ottawa Fury FC.
Greg Vanney’s MLS-leading team has a burr under its saddle after thinking it had secured qualification for the CONCACAF Champions League when it won the Voyageurs Cup for a fifth time last year.
A change in format for the CONCACAF club championship led to a scheduling logjam, however. Now Toronto has to win the Canadian championship again to secure qualification. Failing that it will have to beat whoever does win the domestic title to join the Champions League.
“The rules have changed on us …. We’ve got to go back and we’ve got to do it again,” Vanney said in a conference call Monday. “We’d like to do it through this path because it keeps the trophy in Toronto and it will solidify that (CONCACAF Championship league) position.
“For us the playoff game is solely just an ‘oops’ moment if for some reason we don’t get through this and take care of our business in this tournament.”
The semifinal second leg is slated for May 31 in Toronto. Toronto hosts Columbus on Friday and Ottawa entertains the Richmond Kickers on Saturday in between.
Vancouver hosts Montreal on Tuesday in the opening leg of the other Canadian semifinal.
Toronto is without injured striker Sebastian Giovinco and defender Nick Hagglund.
Vanney will likely rest other regulars while turning to the Canadians on his roster. As Toronto’s former academy head, he takes satisfaction in seeing the club’s homegrown talent flourish.
Local talent at his disposal includes Jay Chapman, Raheem Edwards, Jordan Hamilton, Ashtone Morgan and Sergio Camargo, plus anyone he wants to summon from TFC 2. Midfielder Jonathan Osorio awaits a final call Tuesday morning on whether he has medical clearance to play.
“We want to give guys an opportunity and we’ve got a team that is deep and a lot of guys have earned the right to be on the field,” said Vanney. “And this is a meaningful match for us.”
For Ottawa, defender Kyle Venter and midfielder Gerardo Bruna are doubtful. Defender Ramon Martin Del Campo and forward Steevan Dos Santos are game-time decisions. Forward Carl Haworth is still dealing with a longterm ankle issue.
The first ever Battle of Ontario is a short turnaround for both clubs.
Ottawa is coming off a 4-3 comeback road win over the Red Bulls II on Saturday that saw the Fury score twice in the final three minutes.
Toronto (7-1-5) played to a 1-1 draw at the MLS Red Bulls on Friday, snapping its franchise-record six-game win streak.
Ottawa (2-3-3) sits 11th in the USL Eastern Conference standings. But it has only lost one of its last eight matches (4-1-3) in all competitions.
Fury FC assistant coach Julian de Guzman, who retired as a player in January, sees the Canadian cup tournament as a valuable showcase for Canadian talent at several levels.
“For Ottawa, the Canadian players that are involved, to play against another Canadian team — probably the best Canadian team at the moment — I think’s it’s a great opportunity,” he said.
And the former Canada captain sees the CONCACAF Champions League “as a great way to prove that Canadian clubs do have qualities.”
Ottawa reached the Canadian championship semifinals for the first time last season, posting a 2-0 home win over the Whitecaps before falling 3-0 in Vancouver.
De Guzman, who finished out his distinguished playing career with the Fury, said the two-game series was a learning experience for Ottawa.
“It’s something a lot of players have seen watching on TV but not many have really experienced that at this level on our team.”
The Fury, who made their debut in 2014, advanced this year with a 4-2 aggregate win over FC Edmonton.
De Guzman won three straight Canadian championships with Toronto. The franchise’s first Canadian designated player, he made 93 appearances for his hometown club from 2009 to 2012.
De Guzman, who has fond memories of his time in Toronto, acknowledges the semifinal series will be “bittersweet” personally.
Toronto’s all-time record in the competition is 16-7-9, compared to 2-5-1 for Ottawa.