Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney played down his team’s painful playoff loss in Montreal every time the two teams crossed paths this season.
But as the rivals prepare to clash again in the post-season, Vanney admitted the humiliating 3-0 loss at Saputo Stadium in Toronto’s playoff debut has not been forgotten ahead of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final Nov. 22.
“Absolutely. I think you’re not a competitive person if that doesn’t bother you,” he said after training Wednesday. “For sure it bothered me.”
Vanney said his point was that a pre-season or mid-season game with the Impact wouldn’t even the score.
“The only way we feel better at all is to do something in the playoffs, which is what the opportunity is that’s ahead of us. I don’t think last year will be forgotten by this group as we go into this tie.”
Vanney said while both teams are in a different place from last year’s playoffs, “at the same time we haven’t forgotten.”
“In the back of their minds, I am certain they recall walking off the field that night and how that felt,” he added.
For a franchise that waited nine years to get into the playoffs, the 2015 playoff visit to Montreal was like stepping into a sinkhole. On a chilly late October night, Toronto gave up three goals in 21 minutes and trailed 3-0 after 39 minutes.
‘Left a sour taste in everybody’s mouth’
“It left a really big sour taste in everybody’s mouth,” said Toronto midfielder Jonathan Osorio. “Nobody liked it, nobody anticipated it.
“At the same time, when we look back, they deserved [to win] that match, we deserved to lose in that way and I think we’ve learned from that.”
Montreal’s playoff run also ended badly, beaten one round later by Columbus 4-3 on aggregate after extra time.
Only five members of the Toronto team that started last year’s playoff game in Montreal are members of the current starting 11. Goalkeeper Chris Konopka, centre back Ahmed Kantari, Brazilian fullback Jackson and midfielder Robbie Findley have moved on while defender Josh Williams and midfielder Benoit Cheyrou are backups.
Seven members of the Impact team that beat the New York Red Bulls last Sunday started against Toronto in the 2015 post-season win with two others, including Didier Drogba, on the bench.
The teams split their two league meetings this season. Toronto defeated the Impact 2-0 in Montreal on April 23 and lost 1-0 at BMO Field on Aug. 27. Toronto won the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal series between the two, winning 4-2 at BMO Field and tying 0-0 at Saputo Stadium.
The two-legged MLS playoff aggregate series will open on artificial turf at Olympic Stadium before returning to BMO Field on Nov. 30.
Both teams have lost players to international duty in the interim.
For Toronto, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore are with the U.S. while Armando Cooper is away with Panama. Montreal has lost Laurent Ciman (Belgium), Ambroise Oyongo (Cameroon) and Johan Venegas (Costa Rica).
All will be back in advance of the Eastern final.
Toronto and Montreal are both in fine form. Vanney’s team has won four straight and lost just two of its last 18 (11-2-5) dating back to mid-July. Mauro Biello’s Impact squad has won three in a row and lost just once in its last eight outings (5-1-2).
Teammates stand up for Giovinco over Italy snub
Predictably Toronto FC took umbrage at Italian national team coach Gian Piero Ventura’s comment that he did not call up TFC star Sebastian Giovinco because he “plays in a league that doesn’t count for much.”
“It’s not a fair comment,” said Toronto midfielder Jonathan Osorio. “I think maybe it’s a comment coming from somebody that doesn’t know too much about this league or doesn’t have too much information about. I think if he did know more, he would take back what he said.”
“I feel for Seba,” he added. “Everybody knows he deserves to be there.”
Toronto coach Greg Vanney also dismissed the comment as ignorance of the North American league.
“At the end of the day Sebastian is a great player regardless of where you put him and regardless of what league it is,” he said. “A great player is a great player.”
Giovinco terrorized Major League Soccer defenders for the second season in a row, with 17 goals and 15 assists despite missing six games through injury. He scored a hat trick in Toronto’s 5-0 playoff win over New York City FC on Sunday.