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Toronto FC coach Bob Bradley will be ordering a double-double at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton on Saturday night.
Bradley is hoping to double up on wins against Canadian Premier League teams this year and double his club’s chances of winning two Canadian Championship titles this season.
In one of the strangest games of the year, TFC and Hamilton’s own Forge FC of the CPL, will play in the 2020 Canadian Championship final on Saturday night, with the winner taking home the 2020 Voyageurs Trophy – a final that was delayed for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Win or lose on Saturday, TFC will then face CF Montreal in the 2022 Canadian Championship semifinal on June 22, with the final to be played in July – giving the Reds two shots at winning a Voyageurs Cup this year.
But as he saw in a 2-1 CC quarter-final win against CPL side Halifax Wanderers on May 24, Bradley knows that beating CPL clubs is not as easy as throwing 11 MLS players on the pitch. The CPL, as a league, has improved tremendously over the last few years and Forge is always one of the top clubs in that league.
Earlier this year, Forge played Cruz Azul of the Mexican League very tough over two games in the 2022 Concacaf Champions League round of 16.
“The most important thing is to respect the game, respect your opponent, prepare the way you would for any other match,” said Bradley. “We knew going into Halifax how much it meant to the club, to the fans. We know that’s absolutely true with Forge. I mentioned earlier that for a CPL team, they have an awful lot of experience playing against outside competition (outside of the CPL), different competition, playing in Cups and Bobby (Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis) has done a good job making sure that they’re always ready, And we know it’s going to be a tough test and a good game.”
TFC has won the Voyageurs Cup a record seven times and could add two more this season if all goes well. However, like in Cup games throughout the world, the underdog team from the lower-level league is usually pumped up for the match like nothing else in their season – the old David vs. Goliath scenario. You could see that in the way Halifax played against TFC on May 24. So most of the pressure on Saturday night will be on favored TFC.
“We’re looking to add something very big to our short history of our club,” Smyrniotis told reporters this week. “TFC has had a rough season-and-a-half and they are trying to build. For both of us it’s a way of increasing the winning culture. We’ve shuffled our group and want new players to experience that culture of winning.”
Bradley will likely start veteran goalkeeper Quentin Westberg against Forge. The French/American ‘keeper did not play this season until the Halifax match and then started Toronto’s last game, a 3-2 win over the Chicago Fire on May 28. As the club struggled the last two seasons on the field, the personable Westberg said a trophy now would be a nice boost for TFC.
“It would mean the world,” said Westberg. “And I think we could use it as a group. But it’s not going to come easy.”
“In France and in Europe we play a lot of Cup games and we know how tricky they can get and also how the environment plays part of it and that usually the opponent is going to play the best game of their year and they’re fired up. There’s not as much rationality as there would be in a league game. So it’s adapting to all these factors and, at the end of the day, mainly focusing on you and how much you commit and how invested you are into the game. But you’re still the master of your performance and how you play, and how involved you are and how committed you are.
“And as the level of the CPL is rising, (these games) are going to get even trickier. Forge played really well against Cruz Azul. We’ve seen a lot of footage and they’re a very, very solid CPL team – probably the most successful so far. So there’s a lot of respect and you can never take any soccer game for granted.”
NO GO FOR OSO
Bradley said midfielder Jonathan Osorio has a lower leg injury which an MRI revealed, though it’s still said to be something minor. There is no timeline as to when the Canadian international might return though Bradley is hoping Osorio can recuperate over the international break. Veteran defenders Shane O’Neill (concussion protocol) and Chris Mavinga (lower body injury) are still injured and are not back in team training as of yet. Midfielder Noble Okello is also injured and not close to returning.
Italian national team winger Lorenzo Insigne, who joins TFC on July 1 after signing a four-year deal worth about $15 million per season earlier this year, suffered a lower leg muscle in training this week prior to Italy’s 3-0 loss to Argentina in the Finalissima at Wembley Stadium (a new ‘Super Cup’ game contested by the winners of the UEFA European Championship and the Copa America). Insigne was pulled out of playing in the match for “precautionary” reasons.
“We were told that it is not very severe,” said Bradley on Friday. “I believe he’s leaving the (Italian) team and we’re hopeful that in the next few weeks things come around in a good way so by the time he’s ready to join us here, that he’s able to start training.”
Insigne is expected to join TFC around June 24 and possibly play in the club’s home match against Seattle on July 2.