Moments after Canada beat Mexico in snowy Edmonton on Tuesday, Samuel Piette had a chat with Canadian teammate Jonathan Osorio.
“I said ‘Look, I think we just made history with Canada. We had a great moment. We just beat Mexico. We’re top of the [CONCACAF World Cup qualifying] group,”‘ Piette recalled.
“And we’re brothers. He’s one of my best friends, just in life in general. But now we have to be enemies on Sunday. I won’t hesitate to go into the tackle against one of the guys I was playing with in Edmonton. Like I said, business is business.”
Toronto FC’s Richie Laryea, still hoarse from Tuesday night, echoed the sentiment.
“What we did with the national team was amazing, it’s great and we’re far from over. But now our focus here at this club is the cup final.”
WATCH | Breaking down Canada’s chances of qualifying for the World Cup:
The Canadian band of brothers will be in different colours Sunday when Piette’s CF Montreal hosts Osorio, Laryea and Toronto in the Canadian Championship final.
At stake are the Voyageurs Cup, a berth in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League and $75,000 US to the winning team. Not to mention bragging rights in a fierce rivalry.
For Toronto (6-18-10), it’s also an opportunity to salvage something from one of the worst seasons in club history.
Montreal (12-12-10) finished in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, two points below the playoff line — and 18 above Toronto. It came down to the final game of the regular season Nov. 7 with Montreal needing to beat Orlando to qualify for the post-season. Orlando didn’t co-operate, winning 2-0.
One win in the last six games (1-2-3) of the season did not help Montreal’s cause.
Montreal had the best of Toronto during the regular season, beating TFC 4-2 in the April 17 season opener in Fort Lauderdale and 3-1 on Aug. 27 at Saputo Stadium. Toronto got some small measure of revenge Oct. 23 in a 1-1 tie at BMO Field, thanks to a 95th-minute Jozy Altidore goal.
“That game gave us a lot of motivation because it left a sour taste in our mouth the way we lost that game,” said Montreal defender Kamal Miller.
WATCH | Larin leads Canada past Mexico:
While Montreal concentrated on the playoff race, Toronto has been focused on the Canadian Championship for some time. TFC was officially eliminated from post-season contention Oct. 16 in a 2-0 loss to visiting Atlanta, although the writing had been on the wall for some time.
Toronto lurched to a 1-8-2 start to the season while based in Orlando due to the pandemic. First-year coach Chris Armas was fired July 4 after a humiliating 7-1 loss at D.C. United, with assistant coach Javier Perez put in charge for the remainder of the season.
TFC finished the season 13th in the East, winless in its last six league outings (0-3-3).
Sunday’s game comes amidst speculation that Bob Bradley, father of Toronto captain Michael Bradley, is headed north after parting ways with Los Angeles FC.
Toronto, second in the Supporters’ Shield standings last season, finished the season 26th overall in the 27-team league. It conceded a franchise-worst 66 goals and matched its number of losses from 2018, when the club went 10-18-6 (second only to 2012 when the team went 5-21-8).
The club consistently found ways to make life difficult for itself, giving up a league-high 15 goals in the first 15 minutes of games. Toronto was 2-17-6 when conceding the first goal.
TFC finished the regular season with a lengthy injury list.
Yeferson Soteldo, Alex Bono, Omar Gonzalez, Eriq Zavaleta, Jacob Shaffelburg and Brazilian Auro as well as long-term absentees Ayo Akinola, Tsubasa Endoh and Ralph Priso missed the Nov. 7 season finale, a 3-1 loss to D.C. United.
Altidore (groin) and Chris Mavinga (concussion-related problems) both exited at halftime.
WATCH | CBC Sports contributor John Molinaro analyzes state of national team:
Perez had little in terms of injury update Friday other than to say Soteldo trained with the main group for the first time. The Venezuelan has not played since leaving 39 minutes into Toronto’s 3-0 loss to Inter Miami on Oct. 20.
“Obviously you cannot tell too much in one training session,” Perez said. “We are pushing, we are trying to get him back in the team but it’s a big question-mark.”
“We have other big question-marks in other players,” the Spaniard added, suggesting there will be plenty of game-time decisions.
Perez did say Altidore will play “if it’s my choice.”
Montreal is in better condition, other than forward Mason Toye, who has not played since mid-August.
“I’m happy to get pretty much everybody back,”: said coach Wilfried Nancy.
There was no word on midfielder Lassi Lappalainen, who did not dress in the regular-season finale.
Having edged Toronto in a penalty shootout in the 2019 final, Montreal remains defending champion. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 tournament was eventually reduced to a one-off between Toronto and Forge FC that has yet to be scheduled.
Montreal reached Sunday’s final by dispatching HFX Wanderers FC 3-1 and Forge FC in a marathon 8-7 penalty shootout that saw the goalkeepers decide the match, which finished tied 0-0 after regulation time.
Toronto beat York United FC 4-0 and Pacific FC 2-1.