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Toronto FC stays calm ahead of do-or-die showdown with Impact

Toronto FC fans cheer on their team prior to the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference final against the Montreal Impact at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Tuesday, November 22, 2016.


To listen to the players on Toronto Football Club, there are no white knuckles on their team despite being down a goal to the Montreal Impact entering the last of the two-game, total-goal Major League Soccer Eastern Conference playoff.

"I don't feel like we're down a goal," goal keeper Clint Irwin said on the eve of Wednesday's match at BMO Field. "You're going into any game, you know you have to win. If you're going to win, you need to score a goal and keep them out. So really, it's a normal game in that respect."

The format of the series is the major reason behind that thinking. By scoring twice in Montreal last week in a 3-2 loss to the Impact, TFC left itself in decent shape for the final leg. Away goals determine the first tiebreaker if the teams split the semi-final series with a win apiece, so the Reds can eliminate Montreal and advance to the MLS Cup against the Seattle Sounders by winning a low-scoring game Wednesday night.

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Having the final leg of the two-game aggregate series on their own pitch and in front of what is expected to be a record crowd of nearly 37,000 noisy fans is another big reason for TFC's upbeat attitude.

"We expect that it's going to be an electric night," TFC midfielder Michael Bradley said. "The support our fans have given us all season long has been incredible. [Wednesday] night will blow everything out of the water."

A 1-0 or 2-1 win would send TFC to the MLS Cup on Dec. 10 at BMO Field; the Reds would get home-field advantage because they finished with more regular-season points than Seattle.

However, the games between Montreal and Toronto have not been low-scoring this season, and the Reds will have to play better defence against the Impact's quick, counterattacking style than they did in the first leg. The Impact, paced by Italian striker Matteo Mancosu and Argentine midfielder Ignacio Piatti, scored two quick goals early in the first half and eventually built a 3-0 lead as TFC's back line appeared dumb-founded.

Bradley said that will not happen a second time.

"I promise you [Wednesday] there will be a few plays when Piatti and Mancosu are running into space," he said. "That can't and won't faze us. [The Impact] are comfortable sitting deep with a lot of guys behind the ball – so you have to have different ideas in terms of ways to unbalance them."

Each team earned a win, a draw and a loss against one another in the 2016 regular season.

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"We've had success against them this season," Bradley said. "We have a good grip on them, how they want to play. There are different ways we can make the game difficult for them, and turn the tables in our favour."

One of those ways appears to be starting the game with TFC's customary aggressive play. Since Montreal only needs a draw to advance to the MLS final, Toronto desperately needs to score the first goal.

"The mentality at home is to come out and be aggressive, to play forward, to try to create opportunities to put them on their heels, read situations in terms of when we can be aggressive and press right away," Bradley said.

But both Bradley and TFC head coach Greg Vanney warned that the Reds have to be patient. They can't leave themselves open defensively with over-aggressive play – they have 90 minutes to score as long as they don't concede a goal to Montreal.

"This is one of those situations where we know at the start we are theoretically down, we need a goal," Vanney said. "Getting a goal over 90 minutes is certainly doable. We need to make sure we don't make it a bigger climb for ourselves – keep it clean on the defensive side and give our guys a chance. We don't necessarily have to rush at the beginning and look for the goal. We can get that goal over the course of the match."

The most important thing, the coach added, is to make sure each player gives a complete effort. If so, then the result should take care of itself.

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"The one thing we can never leave is our energy or our effort in the locker room," Vanney said. "We've got to take that on the field, be ready to compete, give everything we have to the moment. If we do that, we'll give ourselves a chance to win the game.

"Our energy, our effort, our commitment is ultimately what the fans will really get behind and support. If we leave our hearts and souls on the field, I think everybody can be proud of that."

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More


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