It doesn’t matter that Toronto FC has a two-goal lead, or that the game falls smack-dab in the middle of their busiest stretch of the season.
Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen insisted he’ll field his strongest squad Wednesday when Toronto battles the Impact in Montreal in the second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal.
“I’m playing my strong team that I think is going to win,” Nelsen said after practice Tuesday. “I don’t care if it’s the World Cup you’re playing for or if it’s a clump of dirt. Every team we put out for Toronto we try and win games.”
Toronto won the opening game 2-0 last Wednesday at BMO Field, meaning Montreal will need to beat Toronto by three goals in the return leg at Saputo Stadium.
“I know Montreal will be coming out all guns blazing, they’ll play their strongest team possible and I know their fans will be right behind them. It’s a great test for us,” Nelsen said. “Their pride was hurt last Wednesday and I think they’ll be going out with their strongest team possible to beat us.”
The semifinal winner will meet either the Vancouver Whitecaps or FC Edmonton in the final, May 15 and 29. Vancouver rallied to beat Edmonton 3-2 in their opener. The tournament winner will represent Canada in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League.
If the aggregate score between Toronto and Montreal is tied after Wednesday’s game, the team with the most away goals advances.
Nelsen said his team won’t be sitting on its two-goal lead.
“It would be lovely to get a goal,” the rookie coach said. “We’ve got a lead and (Montreal) is going to have to try to force the game. And the way we play, we played really well being on the front foot when we played them last Wednesday, so we’ll see.
“A 2-0 lead even out of halftime is a precarious lead let alone with 90 minutes to go.”
Nelsen’s team beat Montreal despite the fact he reached deep into his squad for his young starting 11.
Andrew Wiedeman, who scored Toronto’s second goal against the Impact, said the team is stronger than its ever been.
“It definitely is (tough to crack the starting 11), but that’s a good problem to have,” Wiedeman said. “It’s a testament to the strength of our squad. Guys have to come out here and fight every day on the training field and prove they belong there.”
Montreal head coach Marco Schallibaum also went with a young roster last week, and his move backfired with some Impact supporters, who held a moment of silence during Montreal’s 2-0 victory over Chicago three days later in a Major League Soccer match.
Both teams have been stung by injuries, which is tough timing considering they’re both in the middle of a gruelling stretch of six games in 18 days.
The Impact, who top the Eastern Conference at 5-1-1, play their next MLS game Saturday at San Jose, while Toronto — 1-3-4 and ninth in the East — are in Colorado on Saturday.
Nelsen said Hogan Ephraim and Justin Braun are likely unavailable versus Montreal. Darel Russell has returned to light training, but isn’t ready to play, while fellow defender Richard Eckersley is “still a bit off.”
Terry Dunfield is back jogging, “which is a good start,” Nelsen said. “Hopefully he can be out training pretty soon.”
Alessandro Nesta, Matteo Ferrari and Andrea Pisanu are all likely to be absent for Montreal.
Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who broke his nose in a pre-season game, made his first appearance of the season last Wednesday, but sat in favour of Joe Bendik three days later in Toronto’s 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls.
Frei said, if he’s back in net Wednesday, he’ll be expecting Montreal to press from the opening kickoff. Toronto can capitalize on that.
“They know we know they’re going to have to come, they’re going to have to get some goals,” Frei said. “We’re not going to be afraid to play so when there are holes that pop up that we can use those and get a goal.
“We’re not going to want to rest on those two goals, we want to put one in. One thing that was good about last week was not giving away an away goal. If we can get one there, that would put us in good position.”
Nelsen said he wasn’t sure whether Matias Laba, the young Argentine midfielder that Toronto FC opened its wallet for last week, will be cleared to play Wednesday. The 21-year-old was still undergoing the required medicals Tuesday.
Whether or not he’s good to go, he’ll travel to Montreal “so he can start getting used to MLS flying and all that kind of fun,” Nelsen said.
NOTES: Nelsen was lamenting Sunday’s official relegation of his Queen’s Park Rangers. Nelsen played for QPR until he retired in January to become Toronto FC’s coach. “Really sad, because there’s some lovely people there,” Nelsen said. “Everybody talks about big egos and big money earners, but I always thought there were some really nice people there, down to earth guys and ladies, and the fans were really good to me. So it’s really a shame, I feel really bad for them.”
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