The MLS season has finished and history has been made. For the first time in the four seasons that Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal have been in MLS, they all qualified for the playoffs in the same season. Vancouver finished second in the West and earned a first round bye. Montreal and Toronto will play each other Thursday night.
Montreal and Toronto continue their intense rivalry in their sixth meeting of 2015. Montreal beat Toronto in the Canadian Championship Semi-Finals thanks to three away goals in the second leg. In the final game of the season, Montreal hosted Toronto with playoff positioning on the line. Toronto had a 1-0 lead at half time in a game where a win would have given them home field advantage against Montreal. Early in the second half, Montreal’s mid-season acquisition Didier Drogba showed why he was brought in. Drogba scored two goals in two minutes to give Montreal the lead and they held on to secure home field advantage in the knockout round.
Drogba has been a star since arriving in late August. In 11 games and nine starts, he has scored 11 goals which places him in fourteenth place after playing only a third of the season. Drogba had the most goals per 90 minutes (1.14) of any player in the top 50 for goals scored, and has been the main force carrying them into the playoffs. After Drogba made his debut against Chicago on September 5, Montreal would end the season winning nine of their last eleven to finish third in the East.
Montreal has proven to be successful in elimination competitions. At the beginning of the season Montreal faced the extra challenge of the MLS regular season. Montreal was competiting in the knockout round of the CONCACAF champions league. In a competition that in six seasons only featured one non-Mexican team in the finals, Montreal managed to reach that level. In the second leg of the finals, Montreal held the lead until the second half. They allowed four goals and lost, but proved they can compete with the best teams in North and Central America.
Toronto FC matches and exceeds the star power of Montreal. TFC has US national team players Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, who both helped Toronto finish second in the league in goals. But by far the biggest star, and possible all of MLS, is Sebastian Giovinco. Giovinco finished with 22 goals, tied for first in the league, and 16 assists, best in the league. The Italian star has helped Toronto reach the playoffs for the first time in the team’s eight-year history. However, Toronto has struggled defensively allowing the most goals of any team to reach the playoffs. If TFC wants to advance deep they will have to solve the problem or hope for big saves from Chris Konopka.
Montreal has been one of the top teams over the last few months and should be able to get past Toronto. If Montreal advances, they would face Columbus, a team they have beaten twice this season. Montreal is a team that got hot at the right time and bounced back from their early season tough stretch and should be a serious contender.
The Vancouver Whitecaps are the only Canadian team in the West and had a strong season. Vancouver struggled late wining only one of their final six games, but they did win enough games to earn the tiebreaker for second in the West, and with it were given a first round bye. The Whitecaps will be off until Sunday, and the rest should benefit a young team.
Vancouver made the playoffs on the strength of their defence and keeper David Ousted. Ousted finished the season tied for the lead with eleven shutouts, including their final game of the season. Vancouver only allowed 36 goals all season which was best in the league. In the playoffs, the games will be decided on which team can limit mistakes the most, which should benefit Vancouver.
The offence was balanced with four players scoring more than five goals and none scoring more than ten. Octavio Riverio will continue to be the focal point of the offence and the team will be relying on him in key moments.
A game against their rivals, The Portland Timbers, may occur Sunday. Vancouver won the only meeting they hosted this season by a score of 2-1, thanks to a last minute goal from Robert Earnshaw. A pair of matches in Portland both ended in ties.
Canadian soccer fans can watch a pair of Canadians Patrice Bernier and Jonathan Osorio battle in the midfield, Osorio has been a big part of Toronto’s success this season starting in 26 games. Bernier has only started six games for Montreal but has been used as a sub in 14 games. Another Canadian midfielder will be playing for Vancouver, Russell Teibert. Teibert has started in 15 games this season.
All three Canadian teams will be looking to make an impact in the playoffs this year. Canadian soccer fans should be excited and hopefully this excitement can carry over to the national team has thy continue the long journey to qualifying for the FIFA World Cup.