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Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco, left, defends Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier during the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference Championship at Olympic Stadium in Montreal on Nov. 22. (Eric Bolte/USA Today Sports)
Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco, left, defends Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier during the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference Championship at Olympic Stadium in Montreal on Nov. 22. (Eric Bolte/USA Today Sports)

Toronto FC hopes to win right to play MLS Cup game at home Add to ...

Toronto FC now knows the right win in the second leg of their two-game Eastern Conference final means Major League Soccer’s championship game will be played in their stadium – but they prefer to call that extra motivation, not a distraction.

Thanks to the Seattle Sounders winning the Western Conference final on Sunday, TFC need only to come back from the Montreal Impact’s 3-2 lead in the total-goal aggregate series to win the right to host the MLS Cup on Dec. 10. TFC had more regular-season points (53) than Seattle (48), which determines the championship host. If Montreal (45 points) wins the Eastern Conference, then Seattle will play host to the championship.

Mind you, Wednesday night’s game at BMO Field against Montreal is already filled with distractions for TFC, from the various scenarios of the result needed to overcome Montreal’s lead, to the condition of the pitch after Sunday night’s Grey Cup game, to the heart of the matter: figuring out how to cut off the Impact’s devastating counterattack and spring TFC strikers Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore loose.

“Yeah, I definitely watched [the Seattle-Colorado Rapids game],” TFC defender Drew Moor said after Monday’s training session. “It should certainly provide a little extra motivation for us, but our main focus is on Wednesday night.

“We’re not looking beyond Wednesday night. Our focus all week is Montreal.”

TFC head coach Greg Vanney was more emphatic.

“We know we have plenty of work ahead of us dealing with this next match with Montreal,” he said. “When that is said and done, then we’ll determine whether the game in Seattle meant anything. There was not one word spoken about it.”

Away goals are the first tiebreaker in the MLS playoff series, so at least some observers are almost turning the Impact’s one-goal lead into an advantage for TFC because they have the second game at home. This despite the fact no team has ever advanced to the MLS Cup after losing the first game of an aggregate series.

“A lot of people say [TFC] is in a great spot with the two road goals,” Moor said. “But I think history has shown it’s difficult when you have the second leg at home and you need to get a result. We have our work cut out for us.”

If TFC wins the second game 1-0 or 2-1, for example, they will advance based on the away-goals tiebreaker. But if it becomes a high-scoring game, the permutations get complicated. For that reason, it is crucial that TFC scores the first goal on Wednesday.

“You have to go in thinking we have to win this game,” Moor said. “The last two times we played this team there were four goals in one game and five goals in the other. We have to expect goals and not panic regardless of whether we concede [a goal] or we score ourselves.

“I don’t think there is a favourite either way. We don’t think about that stuff. We put ourselves in a good position, but it doesn’t matter if we don’t come, play our game and win the game.”

Much was made of the bumpy, hard artificial turf at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium for the first game. The concern for BMO Field’s natural grass was the potential damage from the Grey Cup game. However, Vanney said he was told the BMO grounds crew were happy with the condition of the pitch once the Ottawa RedBlacks were finished upsetting the Calgary Stampeders for the CFL championship.

“I know [the crew] took a lot of precautions,” he said. “I cringed when some of the chunks were coming [loose in the Grey Cup game], but I trust our guys. They have a good sense of things.

“A bigger factor is going to be the surface. It’s going to be making sure the guys aren’t slipping – that they have the proper footwear.”

With the mild weather in Toronto expected to hold for the next couple of days, rain rather than cold may be the biggest problem. The forecast on Monday called for temperatures of about 6 C for game time, with the chance of showers lessening in the evening.

Vanney declined to take the bait when he was asked if the BMO Field grounds crew were familiar with the dimensions of the penalty box. The league was embarrassed by the debacle at Olympic Stadium last week when the start of the game was delayed 40 minutes because the penalty box lines were discovered to be too narrow and had to be repainted.

“Our guys are fully aware [of the dimensions],” he said. “They’re competent in what they do. I feel the field will be of amazing quality.”

Defender Eriq Zavaleta did not take part in Monday’s training. He is resting a foot injury and was replaced by veteran Will Johnson, who came into last week’s game after Montreal went ahead 3-0 and played a lead role in settling the defence.

Vanney indicated Zavaleta’s injury is not serious but did not say if either he or Johnson will start on Wednesday.

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