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TFC-Impact rivalry is intense but hate-free, players say Add to ...

There’s nothing like a playoff meeting with a trip to the MLS Cup final on the line to heat up the rivalry between the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC.

The opening leg of the two-game, total-goals Eastern Conference final on Nov. 22 will be the sixth meeting of the year between the clubs from Canada’s two largest cities, teams whose fans already trade nasty chants.

But this game, and the return leg Nov. 30 in Toronto, will be their biggest showdown since Montreal joined MLS in 2012.

“It’s Toronto-Montreal, so I think the hatred is built in from the start,” Montreal goal keeper Evan Bush said Friday. “You don’t have to play them six times to figure that out.

“We play them a lot, whether it’s regular season, Canadian Cup and now the playoffs, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. You want to play in big rivalry games. Regardless of what people say, there’s going to be a different feel to it knowing we’re playing Toronto FC in a conference final, as opposed to Columbus or New York or whoever.”

The winner will play in the championship game Dec. 10 against either Seattle or Colorado.

The rivalry started to pick up last year when Toronto made the playoffs for the first time in nine MLS seasons, only to be routed 3-0 in the single-game opening round in Montreal. It was a setback TFC players have not forgotten.

Toronto holds a 2-1-2 edge in head-to-head meetings with Montreal this season, including a 4-2 aggregate win in Amway Canadian Championship play in June.

On April 23, TFC put on a clinic of defence and quick strike scoring in a 2-0 victory in Montreal, but the Impact repaid the favour with a 1-0 win at BMO Field on Aug. 27, their first-ever victory in Toronto. The teams played to a 2-2 draw in the regular-season rubber match Oct. 16 in Montreal.

The Impact had a player sent off in three consecutive games. There was a scuffle when Patrice Bernier was shown the red card for a nasty tackle in Cup play in Toronto, a head butt by Lucas Ontivero in the return leg and more bad blood when Montreal’s Calum Mallace bodychecked Steven Beitashour in Montreal’s lone win.

But “hate” between the teams has yet to enter the discussion.

“C’mon man, it’s not like that,” Bush said. “We’re fully aware of the rivalry and the hatred between the cities and the fans, but a lot of us have played against each other for different teams for many years.

“To say there’s a hatred just because he’s wearing a certain jersey doesn’t resonate with me.”

Defender Hassoun Camara agreed. “I don’t hate these guys,” he said. “It’s a great confrontation and the only ambition we have is that we want to show we’re the best team.

“It’s just soccer and we go onto the field to enjoy. For sure, there’s [a rivalry] between the cities and we want to show our supremacy. That’s it.”

The Impact drew 61,004 to the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League final against Mexico’s Club America in April, 2015. Bush sat out that match for yellow card accumulation and, with backup Eric Kronberg cup-tied, they had to call in Kristian Nicht from the NASL to play in goal.

Now the 30-year-old will get his chance to play before a huge crowd at home and knows he will need to stay in control.

“If you get too anxious to play in a game like this you can go in with the wrong emotions,” he said. “Whether we’re playing in front of 5,000 people in D.C. or 60,000 in Montreal, you try to approach the game the same way.

“You try to stay on an even keel. We’re excited for the fan support and I’m sure it will push us to raise the level on the day of the game, but if you put too much into it, it can go the wrong way for you.”

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