Toronto FC, CF Montreal derby comes twice this week with both cup and league play

·6 min read

TORONTO — It's a double-derby week for Toronto FC and CF Montreal, two teams that have been on roller-coaster rides already this season.

Toronto (2-3-6) hosts Montreal (4-6-0) at BMO Field on Tuesday in the Canadian Championship quarterfinal with the two teams meeting against Saturday in Major League Soccer play at Saputo Stadium.

While both teams have 12 points in league play, Montreal appears on the rise while Toronto seems caught in a stutter-step that is preventing movement upwards.

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Injuries have not helped Toronto's case, and they keep coming.

TFC is coming off a disappointing 2-0 loss Saturday to the visiting New England Revolution that saw veteran centre back Matt Hedges sidelined with a lower leg issue during the pre-game warmup and his replacement, Shane O'Neill, exiting in the 69th minute after feeling something untoward in his leg. O'Neill was slated to undergo an MRI Monday.

TFC was already missing midfielders Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio and Victor Vazquez, fullbacks Raoul Petretta and Cristian Gutierrez and forward Jordan Perruzza.

Toronto had 18 players involved in the portion of training that was open to the media Monday.

"We've got a lot of questions for (Tuesday), there's no doubt," said coach Bob Bradley. "So what you saw on the field today, that's most likely the group that we're choosing from … Even of the guys that are out there today, one or two are still feeling a little sore from the game so we'll have to evaluate them (Tuesday)."

That included fullback Richie Laryea, who was at training Monday but skipped a planned media session to undergo treatment. Petretta was also part of the training group.

It's been a confounding campaign for Bradley, who has seen positives but not enough of them consistently.

The season opened painfully with a red-flag 3-2 loss at D.C. United that saw TFC rally from a 1-0 deficit to take a 2-1 lead with seven minutes remaining, only to concede goals in the 90th and 98th minute. To make matters worse, star winger Lorenzo Insigne limped off in the first half with a groin injury that caused him to miss the next six games.

Toronto then went seven games without losing, albeit while taking just nine of a possible 21 points with six draws during the run, before being thumped 4-2 at Philadelphia in a lopsided game that was nowhere near as close as the score might indicate.

TFC bounced back with a 1-0 win over visiting New York City FC before Saturday's defeat at the hands of New England.

TFC stands 13th in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Chicago Fire (2-3-5) and three ahead of the New York Red Bulls (1-4-6), who both dumped their coaches Monday.

The expensive Italian experiment remains a work in progress. Insigne (seven goals, two assists, 16 league games) and Federico Bernardeschi (11 goals, six assists, 24 games) are undoubted talents but have not received the help needed from a revolving supporting cast to make maximum use of their attacking skills.

Toronto has taken just 27 of a possible 72 points in the 24 league outings (6-9-9) since the Italians made their debut last July. Injuries have largely prevented Bradley from fielding his first-choice 11 since their arrival.

"There's no doubt that if you look at the second half of last season and then now what's happened this year that we've just struggled to have a consistent group on the field and go from one game to the next to the next to the next and feel like things are going in the right direction," said Bradley. "That part makes it harder, there's no two ways about it."

CF Montreal, in contrast, has seemingly found its feet and won four straight in all competition after a dismal 1-6-0 start to the that saw the team fail to score in all six losses,

Montreal has not lost or conceded a goal since April 16 in a 1-0 loss to D.C. United — a shutout streak that stretches 404 minutes in all competitions. The fact that Montreal is currently tied for 26th in the league in defence, giving up an average of 1.70 goals a game, demonstrates just how bad the team's start to the season was.

Canadian defender Joel Waterman attributes the recent defensive turnaround, in part, to time spent playing alongside French veteran Rudy Camacho and Italian Gabriele Corbo. But he says the whole team has bought into defending.

"I just think it's more determination and more of a mindset. I think we needed to really change our mentality and not give up goals easily as you saw at the beginning of the season," said Waterman. "We really want to maintain clean sheets and give ourselves a chance to win games and give our forwards a chance to score goals as well.

"It starts with us but it's the whole team. It's not just us three at the back."

Bradley says he sees confidence these days when he looks at Montreal.

"They've turned around and played well of late," he said.

Forward-turned-wingback Ariel Lassiter, who came to Montreal with midfielder Bryce Duke last month in a trade from Inter Miami, is new to the rivalry with Toronto but knows its significance.

"I know it means the world," Lassiter said.

Forge FC hosts Atletico Ottawa in Tuesday's other cup quarterfinal.

On Wednesday, it's the defending champion Vancouver Whitecaps at York United FC in Toronto and TSS Rovers FC at Pacific FC in an all-B.C. matchup in Langford. TSS Rovers, a semi-pro side that plays in B.C. League1, upset the CPL's Valour FC 3-1 in the preliminary round.

The Toronto-Montreal winner hosts either Forge or Atletico Ottawa in the May 23-25 semifinal.

The Canadian Championship figures in Montreal's turnaround this season with a preliminary-round 2-0 win over visiting Vaughan SC on April 18 followed by 2-0 league victories over the New York Red Bulls, Sporting Kansas City and Orlando City.

Toronto has lifted the Voyageurs Cup eight times compared to five for Montreal. TFC has been runner-up five times and Montreal twice.

Atletico Ottawa at Forge FC

Forge (2-0-2) is unbeaten this season, posting consecutive one-goal road wins over Pacific and York after home draws with Cavalry FC and HFX Wanderers FC.

Ottawa, meanwhile, has struggled since finishing first in last year's CPL regular season and losing 2-0 to Forge in the championship game. Ottawa, currently last in the eight-team league at 0-2-2 with just three goals to its name, is coming off a 4-1 loss to visiting Pacific.

Including cup play, Ottawa has conceded the first goal in all five games this season.

Forge blanked FC Laval 3-0 while Ottawa downed HFX Wanderers FC 3-1 in preliminary-round Canadian Championship play.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2023.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press