My 24th Minute colleague Andrew Bates already laid out what's at stake in tonight's first leg of the USL-1 final between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact, so I'll only touch on it briefly. Suffice it to say that you couldn't write a better script, though. The Whitecaps had low expectations going into this year, and they didn't perform all that well at the start, but they did look set for glory in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship. However, in the final game of the three-team tournament, Montreal rolled over and played dead against Toronto FC, losing 6-1 to give TFC the championship and its associated berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. That seemed to motivate Vancouver, who finished the season on a hot streak, snuck into the last playoff spot and promptly defeated No.2 Carolina and No.1 Portland to make it into the USL-1 final. Now, as Sportsnet.ca's Ryan Johnston wrote, they have a chance at revenge.
On the field, they should have a good chance at it, too. Up front, Vancouver has perhaps the most impressive strike force in the league with USL-1 lead scorer Charles Gbeke, newly-announced Rookie of the Year winner Marcus Haber, the always-dangerous Marlon James and the blazing speed of Randy Edwini-Bonsu. The midfield has plenty of options, even with injuries to Ansu Toure and Gordon Chin; Martin Nash, Kenold Versailles, Wes Knight and Nizar Khalfan are likely to start, with Mason Trafford, Chris Pozniak and Justin Moose available off the bench. On defence, Luca Bellisomo and Shaun Pejic have been very good in the centre, and Takashi Hirano is a solid wingback. The other wingback spot is a bit up for grabs if Knight moves up to the wing, but either Pozniak, Trafford or Marco Reda could earn a start on defence. In net, they have Jay Nolly, one of the best keepers in the league. They also have quite the tactical mastermind in coach Teitur Thordarson, who just received a contract extension.
Montreal has a good lineup of their own, though. Three of their key players are former Whitecaps, Joey Gjertsen (who was a guest on Jared Montz's podcast this week), Eduardo Sebrango and David Testo, so they'll all have extra motivation to beat their old team. Matt Jordan can be a great keeper, but he's sometimes streaky. When he's in form, though, he can be tough to beat. Roberto Brown and Leonardo DiLorenzo are always dangerous as well. It certainly won't be easy for the Whitecaps, especially with the key second leg in Montreal next week. Tune in tonight at 9:30 p.m. Eastern/6:30 p.m. Pacific for the live blog!