By GREGORY STRONG
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
TORONTO -- Toronto FC's deep run in the CONCACAF Champions League competition was possible thanks to a domestic title run that got its start a year ago in Ottawa. The reigning Major League Soccer champions will return to the capital Wednesday to begin their quest to get back to the confederation final.
The squad will take on Ottawa Fury FC of the United Soccer League in the opener of a two-leg Canadian Championship semifinal. Toronto FC is looking for its third straight domestic title and seventh over all.
"The mindset is we have to lay everything on the line from Minute 1of Leg 1to as far as we make it, hopefully the second leg of the final," TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono said. "It's important for us that we come out with a fast start and we come out knowing that nothing is going to be given to us."
TFC is expected to rest several regulars for the first leg against the Montreal Impact affiliate. The injury-plagued Reds, currently mired in a six-game winless skid, also have their eye on Saturday's MLS game in Chicago.
Head coach Greg Vanney notes that Ottawa is a "very organized" team defensively that will likely try to counterattack when possible.
"We've got to make sure that we're good with the ball and that we're also organized behind and have the appropriate amount of numbers behind our attacks," Vanney said. "At the same time, play the long game and look for the one goal, the two goals that we need to bring it back home to try to win it."
Ottawa, which entered the draw in the second qualifying round, defeated AS Blainville 2-0 last month to reach the final four.
"It's okay to be the underdogs sometimes," Ottawa goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau said. "The pressure is on their shoulders, not ours, because we are the underdogs and we have nothing to lose."
Ottawa is currently tied for 10th in the USL's 16-team Eastern Conference standings at 7-8-3. Toronto FC, meanwhile, has struggled mightily since falling to Chivas Guadalajara in the CONCACAF Champions League final last April. The Reds are second-last in the 11-team MLS Eastern Conference at 4-11-4 and have just one victory in their past nine games.
Canada's other MLS teams - Montreal and the Vancouver Whitecaps - will square off in the other two-leg semi-final. The twoleg final is scheduled to begin Aug. 8.
Ottawa beat Toronto 2-1 in the opener last year before the MLS side rebounded for a 4-0 win at BMO Field to clinch the total-goal series 5-2. Conditions are expected to be ideal Wednesday at TD Place Stadium with the forecast calling for warm temperatures and sunny skies.
"It will be a very difficult game for us," Ottawa head coach Nikola Popovic said. "This is perhaps one of the best teams, not only in North America but in CONCACAF, so we expect a very difficult game.
But I think there is a small chance for us, but there is a chance."
Vanney said he'll stress to his players the importance of controlling the ball and avoiding unforced errors on the bouncy artificial turf.
"I think we have to be very intelligent and very realistic about what the game could look like," he said. "It's probably not going to be the most beautiful game of soccer.
"This is a field that sets up for some challenges and you've got to be ready to manage those challenges. They're a team that looks to create those types of moments."
Toronto FC will host the return leg on July 25.
Sporting Kansas City's Diego Rubio, left, works against Toronto FC's Jonathan Osorio during a match on July 7. TFC is second to last in the 11-team MLS Eastern Conference at 4-11-4 and has just one victory in its past nine games.
ORLIN WAGNER/THE CANADIAN PRESS