Though its been little more than a month and a half since their semi-final defeat to UANL Tigres in the CONCACAF Champions League, the road back to the CCL already begins Tuesday night for the Vancouver Whitecaps, as they’ve been drawn against the Montreal Impact in a semi-final for the Amway Canadian Championship. Win it, and they move on to play either Toronto FC or the Ottawa Fury for the Voyageurs Cup.
Where: BC Place, Vancouver, BC
When: Tuesday, May 23rd at 7 pm PST
How: TSN1 (TV), TSN 1040 (Radio)
Vancouver completed the 2016 season as the lowest-ranked Canadian MLS side, placing the team as hosts for the first leg of their ACC semi-final against the Montreal Impact (while USL-based Ottawa defeated FC Edmonton of the NASL, earning the right to host the top Canadian MLS club, Toronto).
Ultimately, the winner of the ACC will face Toronto, the 2016 champion, in a one-off match, to determine which Canadian side will take part in the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League, as a result of the recent format changes made to the CCL.
In the first nine years of the competition, Vancouver has compiled a record of 4-2-6 against Montreal. Though the two teams have squared off in some decisive matches, such as Montreal winning the cup in Vancouver in 2013 due to the away goals rule or the Whitecaps capturing their first ACC title in 2015, supporters of the blue-and-white will tell you the most unforgettable match didn’t even involve Vancouver.
In the 2009 edition of the event, featuring a home-and-away league format, Vancouver sat at the top of the table with one match remaining between Montreal and Toronto. For the Whitecaps to win the title, the Impact only needed to lose to Toronto by 4 goals. Instead, Montreal rolled over in the second half, allowing five Toronto goals for TFC to win the match 6-1, and the title. Je me souviens, indeed.
Earlier today, the Whitecaps and Impact announced their respective 23-man rosters for the semi-final:
Vancouver Whitecaps Roster:
Goalkeepers (2): Sean Melvin, Spencer Richey
Defenders (6): Marcel de Jong, Sem de Wit, Jake Nerwinski, Tim Parker, Cole Seiler, Deklan Wynne
Midfielders (11): Matthew Baldisimo, Marco Bustos, Alphonso Davies, Matias Laba, Ben McKendry, Nicolas Mezquida, David Norman Jr., Mauro Rosales, Tony Tchani, Cristian Techera, Russell Teibert
Forwards (4): Gloire Amanda, Kyle Greig, Fredy Montero, Brek Shea
There are a number of significant names absent from that list: David Ousted, Kendall Waston, Sheanon Williams, Jordan Harvey, Andrew Jacobson, and Christian Bolanos will not be participating in this first semi-final match. These are in addition to the list of players remaining on the injured list (Christian Dean, David Edgar, Brett Levis, and Yordy Reyna).
Unsurprisingly, Carl Robinson opts for a much younger lineup, as he’s been known to do in these ACC matches. Don’t be surprised if WFC2 stand-outs such as Sem de Wit and Gloire Amanda see the pitch at some point in the match
Montreal Impact Roster:
Goalkeepers (3): Evan Bush, Maxime Crépeau, Eric Kronberg
Defenders (7): Ambroise Oyongo, Hassoun Camara, Laurent Ciman, Chris Duvall, Kyle Fisher, Wandrille Lefevre, Daniel Lovitz
Midfielders (10): Adrian Arregui, Hernán Bernardello, Patrice Bernier, David Choinière, Blerim Dzemaili, Calum Mallace, Ignacio Piatti, Michael Salazar, Shamit Shome, Ballou Tabla
Forwards (3): Nick DePuy, Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Dominic Oduro
The Impact roster looks incredibly similar to the one fielded against the Whitecaps on April 29th, and yet two notable names are absent: Marco Donadel and Matteo Mancosu. In fact, both players missed playing time immediately following that match, with Mancosu still remaining unavailable. Though Donadel recently returned to action on Saturday against Portland, perhaps the thought is to not push him back into action.
Similarly, there are a couple of notable names included in the Impact lineup, in Hassoun Camara and Blerim Dzemaili.
Named the Impact Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, Camara missed the match against the Whitecaps in April, and the subsequent two matches, as he was working through a concussion protocol. Considering that he saw the last six minutes of Montreal’s win on Saturday against Portland, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take the pitch tomorrow.
Dzemaili’s inclusion in the lineup is a slightly odder story: he was announced as a Designated Player last December, but with the intention for the Impact to officially sign him during the recent primary transfer window. In the time since, he’s run a full 90 for Montreal, and I would not be surprised to see him start, to further acquaint him with the first team.
Who’s Going to Win?
When comparing the rosters, the Whitecaps’ youth against the experience of the Impact, I’d say the Impact take the first leg without question.
However, the ever-present issue of travel for MLS teams always adds an air of ambiguity (as opposed to the drive down the 401 Toronto FC will make to Ottawa). I also have a gut feeling that Robinson will revert back to his 4-2-3-1, to clog up the middle while acting as a figurative comfort zone for the Whitecaps who have not shared time on the pitch.
So who will win? Rationale is telling me it will be Montreal outright, but I’m taking a chance on the hometown bias, and expect Vancouver to score early, but eventually yield an equalizer for a 1-1 draw, setting up a much more lively away leg next week.
Vancouver Whitecaps: Richey; Nerwinski, de Wit, Parker, de Jong; Laba, Teibert; Techera, Shea, Davies; Montero.
Montreal Impact: Bush; Camara, Fisher, Ciman, Oyongo; Arregui, Bernardello; Tabla, Dzemaili, Piatti; Oduro.