Sebastian Giovinco and Toronto FC will travel to Stade Saputo on Thursday to play against rivals Didier Drogba and the Montreal Impact for the first all-Canadian playoff series in MLS Cup Playoff history.
The wait is over for Toronto fans, the playoffs have arrived. Thanks to Giovinco, the TFC fans will have their first taste of the post-season. The Italian international carried the Reds to their first playoff appearance by winning the 2015 Audi Golden Boot Award with 22 goals and finishing the regular season with the most assists in the league (16).
However, his heroic performance was not enough to place TFC in a higher seed then sixth. The Atomic Ant was involved in 38 of the 58 goals Toronto scored. The strategy to defeat the Reds became simple: take Giovinco out of the game and the three points was almost a guarantee. Not to mention the defense of TFC, which conceded 58 goals and did not help them to be consistent.
At the end of the day, the Toronto faithful are happy that the playoffs have finally arrived. The Reds can only host a game in one of the next two series if they advance. However, manager Greg Vanney and the rest of the Reds cannot afford to think of the next round, since the challenge ahead is the Impact.
Montreal finished the season on fire and a big part of that success was due to Drogba’s arrival. Before he came, the Impact were sitting out of the playoffs with an 8-4-9 (W-D-L) record and seemed stuck in rot. Once the former Ivory Coast international stepped on the field for the first time on August 22nd against the Philadelphia Union, Montreal was reborn. Although they did lose the first two games of the Drogba era, former manager Frank Klopas was sacked following those two defeats, and the Impact have not looked back since.
After interim manager Mauro Biello took over the Impact have improved immeasurably, largely thanks to Drogba. Over the final 11 games of the season, the former English Premier League striker made his presences felt by scoring 11 times and guiding his new club to an 8-2-1 (W-D-L) record and finishing in third place in the Eastern Conference. This is the club's best regular season finish since 2013, when they made the playoffs for the first time as the fifth seed.
The Impact has no real sense of history in the MLS post-season. They have only played one game, in ’13 when they were eliminated by the Houston Dynamo 3-0 in the knockout round on Halloween at BBVA Compass Stadium. The Stade Saputo has never hosted an MLS playoff match in its history.
However, when the Impact fans got the opportunity to support their club in the second round of the 2014-2015 CONCACAF Champions League they did not disappoint. The smallest amount of people that showed up were 33,675 in the semifinal. In the final against Club America there were 61,004 fans in attendance.
Now, Drogba is in the house and is ready to take the Impact on a run. However, if they are going to accomplish this he is going to need Ignacio Piatti to help break down the vulnerable TFC defense. Whether speedster Dominic Oduro starts or not, his main job will be to exhaust the Reds and create mistakes and confusion on the backline. Reds goalkeeper Joe Bendik will be the deciding factor if Montreal runs away with this match or not.
Additionally, Montreal’s keeper Evan Busch will need to keep his eyes open and be ready to stop Giovinco. However, the defense will need to make sure that they do not allow U.S. international Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore to get going in this match. The last thing they want is TFC’s trio to pick up momentum, because that will open up space for other players to potentially punish the Impact on Thursday.
Prediction: Montreal 1-0 TFC
Toronto will play a near perfect game at the Stade Saputo on Thursday. However, somehow Drogba will be the X-factor that sends Montreal to the Conference Semifinals for the first time.