Rudi Schuller: Nesta tug-of-war the latest chapter in Montreal-Toronto rivalry

The courtship of Alessandro Nesta by both the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC adds fuel to a burgeoning Canadian rivalry.
The long rivalry between Toronto and Montreal in sporting terms is well documented.

The Maple Leafs and Canadiens are the flag bearers of the Upper Canada versus Lower Canada mutual disdain society, despite the recent misfortunes of those two storied NHL teams.

The Argonauts and Alouettes have arguably a longer rivalry in the CFL, albeit one that is firmly ensconced in second place behind their hockey brethren thanks to the relative popularity of Canadian football vis-a-vis shinny in the Great White North, and the on-again, off-again nature of the Als' existence.

Heck, even baseball's Blue Jays and Expos (R.I.P.) were compared to one another constantly, despite the two never actually facing off in a competitive setting until the 1990's when interleague play was introduced.

In soccer, rivalries help define a club's essence, and given the longstanding feud between Montreal and Toronto in all other facets, it makes perfect sense for the Impact and TFC - who have battled on the field since 2008, but not on level terms until this year - to join in on the fun and declare war on one another.

That may have just happened over the past week.

Heading into last Wednesday's match versus the Impact at Stade Saputo, Toronto FC was quietly courting one of the biggest names in the history of the game to help its beleaguered back line. The Reds had made overtures to Alessandro Nesta, who had been public in his intention of joining Major League Soccer after leaving Serie A outfit AC Milan earlier this year.

Nesta was seen as a great potential fit for TFC, as his commanding presence would ostensibly aid in solidifying the young, shaky defensive corps that head coach Paul Mariner had inherited when he took over from his old boss Aron Winter a few weeks prior.

The Italian legend had reportedly reciprocated Toronto's interest, and a deal was said to be in the final stages of completion and set to be announced shortly after the local derby.

Then the match happened.

TFC, which had claimed only a solitary victory in MLS play heading into last Wednesday's clash in Montreal, rode a second half offensive outburst to thoroughly embarrass the Impact in their refurbished home, prompting an outraged response from Joey Saputo, the long-time president of the expansion side.

"Absolute disgrace, enough said," Saputo tweeted minutes after the final whistle of that 3-0 loss by his club. It's been reported that it was that embarrassing loss to hated Toronto - which Nesta was apparently there to see in person - that got the ball rolling on what could ultimately end up being a swift coup for the Italian's services.


Montreal has since made a very public contract offer to the former Milan stalwart, no doubt hastened by the 3-0 loss at D.C. United just three days after doing the same against Toronto, and is now said to be dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's on an 18-month deal with the famed centre back.

If Nesta ends up joining the Impact - and all signs seem to point in that direction - it will be a victory for Montreal over Toronto, and by extension, a personal vindication for Joey Saputo. The Impact will have been seen making swift changes in light of a pair of ugly losses in MLS, and they'll have done so while simultaneously undermining their biggest rival.

In claiming the Nesta sweepstakes, the battle will have clearly been won by Montreal. But the war is just heating up, which could be a good thing for both sides.

Rudi Schuller is the Chief Editor of Canada.