The stakes couldn’t be higher in what has been touted as one of Canada’s fiercest sports rivalries.
The Montreal Impact will go head to head with Toronto FC Tuesday night in the first of a two-match Major League Soccer (MLS) Eastern Conference Championship in front of a sold out crowd of 61,004 at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
The second match takes place Wednesday, Nov. 30 at BMO Field in Toronto.
The two teams have faced each other three times this season, but there are no clear indications as to which is the better team as both sides took away one victory and tied their last meeting in October.
Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney said he isn’t taking anything for granted, despite finishing in third place during the regular season, ahead of the Impact who finished fifth.
“Both teams will find their moments, there’s no question because it’s two good teams,” Vanney said.
“We have to do our best to protect our goals and obviously put away the opportunities that we have.”
The Impact are widely considered as the underdogs going into the conference finals, but head coach Mauro Biello isn’t letting that affect his team’s moral.
He hopes to build on the momentum generated from upset victories against DC United and New York Red Bulls.
“For us now, it’s about focusing on what we control.”
The pressure of playing in front of nearly 60,000 fans at the Big O and a sold-out crowd of 30,991 at Toronto’s BMO Field in Toronto is high.
But there is an extra honour for the winners of the latest installment of the 401 Derby: being named the first Canadian team to reach an MLS final.
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“We are going to prepare the team for this game,” Venney said.
“We’ve got a very good team ahead of us. We’ve got to earn the right to get there by making one play at a time.”
Whichever team emerges as the winner, the game of soccer comes out ahead as the anticipation between the rivals has helped promote the sport.
“This is where dreams begin for a lot of young players,” Biello said.
“Watching this game, having a chance to be a part of it or experience it as a youngster and one day maybe being a part of that.”
The MLS Easter Conference Final start at 8 p.m. Tuesday.