The sibling rivalry between the two largest Canadian cities is set to take on a new, record-setting wrinkle.I've always said that Toronto vs. Montreal would be a heated rivalry in everything, even tiddlywinks.
This weekend, the age-old rivalry kicks off again, but it'll be anything but child's play when an expected MLS record away contingent descends on Montreal's Olympic Stadium to cheer on Toronto FC in enemy territory.
For their part, the Montreal Impact are building up their home opener against the hated Reds by embracing the rivalry. The Impact front office obliged TFC's request of a massive block of tickets for its season seat holders, with Toronto receiving 5,000 orders from its most valued supporters.
“We worked with the front office in Montreal to arrange for a special allotment of tickets to be made available to TFC fans," TFC senior director of business operations Paul Beirne told MLSsoccer.com. "As a result, over 5,000 tickets have been requested. We’ll see how many actually travel to Montreal. After this week’s win against Sporting Kansas City, I expect it will be a good solid number.”
That it may not reach the full 5,000 mark should not be a point of consternation. Even if half of those who requested tickets show up, TFC supporters will still break their own league record for most travelling fans (set in 2008 in Columbus).
That's huge, especially given Toronto's MLS futility throughout its entire existence.
On the other side of the (home) park, Impact officials are expecting a downsized-capacity sell out of 38,000 to fill the indoor stadium. The club has encouraged its growing legion of supporters to wear blue and drown out the red invasion.
Now, Montrealers never have to be asked twice to try to one-up their Toronto brethren, and the thought of 33,000 blue-clad Quebecois shouting down the defiant Ontario horde has to bring chills to those who remember the dark days of Canadian soccer, where a crowd of 5,000 total at a domestic club game would be heralded by the die-hards as a massive victory for the sport.
With all due respect to Cascadia and the amazing things happening out that way -- Seattle and Portland will also be renewing hostilities on Saturday -- the longest-running, truest rivalry in MLS is the one between Upper and Lower Canada, and this weekend's battle at the Big O will just be the latest in a long line of sporting hatred between the two largest Canadian cities.
Just as interest has been bolstered in the stands, the on-field product should also be vastly superior this year. While it's far too soon to call TFC a playoff contender, the early returns on the new Payne-Nelsen era shows a smarter, tactically aware side that plays to its strengths and will be competitive in more matches than not.
And on the opposite end of the pitch, Montreal is fresh off its six-point heist from the Pacific Northwest, and its mix of savvy international veterans and MLS-tested players looks to be a real post-season contender, as long as the key parts remain healthy.
The two sides split their MLS meetings last year, each sporting a 1-1-1 record as the see-saw rivalry manifested itself in the results. With both clubs seemingly upgraded, the on-field product should be more entertaining and competitive than ever before.
What that all adds up to is two improved teams that will be emotionally charged by a massive, bi-partisan crowd. And it's only the first of five competitive meetings between the two sides this year.
Bring it on.