TORONTO — The soccer rivalry between Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps adds a new virtual chapter Sunday as Toronto midfielder Marky Delgado takes on Whitecaps defender Erik Godoy in the eMLS Tournament Special.
TFC pro gamer Phil (PhilB94) Balke plays Whitecaps counterpart Alex (Exraa) Gonzalez-Aldana in the other half of the esports matchup using EA Sports' FIFA game.
Delgado is considered one of the top gamers on the TFC roster but acknowledges he hadn't sat down at his video game console for a while.
"Once I got the email (invitation), I had nothing else to do, I had nothing but time. And I said "Why not?' So I started putting in some work, I guess you could say, some practice."
The team with the highest aggregate score after the two matches moves on to the next round, with a golden goal tiebreaker between the two MLS players taking place if the teams are tied.
Given the players will use their own team in the game, choosing the starting lineup may be the most sensitive task for Delgado.
"I was thinking about that,' Delgado said with a laugh. "I'll have to be cautious with my substitutions."
Several teammates have already told him they will be watching his managerial decisions.
Delgado and Balke have put their heads together in advance.
"I'm pretty confident even if we don't know how good they are," Delgado said of the Whitecaps gaming duo.
The winner of the all-Canadian series will meet either Atlanta United or Orlando City SC later Sunday to see who moves on to the final four May 17.
The eMLS Tournament Special started April 19 with 16 teams, each fielding a player and esports representative. All the matches have been played remotely with the MLS and eMLS players competing from home.
Awaiting the results of Sunday's play is New York City FC, which has already made the semifinal on the Canadian teams' side of the bracket. NYCFC, whose player representative is Sean Johnson, has already dispatched the rival Red Bulls and FC Dallas.
Delgado would relish facing NYCFC, which showed interest in taking him second overall in the 2014 Chivas USA dispersal draft but elected to take Matt Dunn instead. Toronto then used the 14th overall pick to select Delgado.
The semifinal on the other side of the eMLS Tournament bracket pits Los Angeles FC against Sporting Kansas City. LAFC has already beaten the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chicago Fire FC. Kansas City defeated Minnesota United and D.C. United.
MLS Works, the league's social responsibility platform, and Fox Sports will make a donation on behalf of the winning club to Feeding America, with MLS also supporting Food Banks Canada.
Delgado reached agreement with the club in late April on a new long-term deal after some lengthy discussions.
"We're still waiting on the league to approve everything. But I'm definitely excited about it," he said. "Thankful for the opportunity to continue representing the club."
Just 24, the Californian has already played 182 MLS regular-season and playoff games with all but 37 of those in Toronto colours. Delgado made US$253,000 last season, which ranked 16th among TFC players.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press