It was likely a long bus ride back to Quebec for the 100 or so Montreal Impact fans that made the trip Wednesday to watch their club take on TFC in second leg of the Voyageurs Cup semi-final.
It was a listless effort against a club with just one previous win on the year and another failed attempt by the Impact to get a result against their biggest rival. Although it’s mostly forgotten right now, Montreal has just one win all-time against TFC in nine games.
Actually, the Impact have shown themselves to be nearly allergic to the Voyageurs Cup in recent years. Yes, they did famously win the first tournament version of the event (and were the only winners of the Cup during its early, fan-controlled history), but 2008 must seem like a long time ago now for the frustrated Impact fan.
Not only has Montreal failed to win the Cup since, it’s failed to win a single game in the competition since 2008. The loss to TFC Wednesday runs its record winless streak to an amazing 13 games, nine of which were losses. That’s TFC 2012 bad.
Speaking of the Reds, the win Saturday was obviously needed, but also, perhaps, a Pyrrhic victory. The struggling—and beat up—team just added two more mid-week games to its schedule. No one on the Impact will publically admit it, but it seems likely that the club wasn’t all that upset that it wouldn’t need to book a flight to B.C. next Wednesday.
Fixture congestion is an issue in every league in the world. However, not every league is like MLS. Between insane travel, terrible playing surfaces and occasional goon tactics there is a greater physical demand on players in MLS than there is in many other more technical leagues. Good players and teams find a way to overcome it. But just like there is some truth to the “let’s see him do that in Stoke on a rainy Tuesday night” cliché in England there is also truth to the idea that fixture congestion plays a bigger role in MLS than in other leagues.
Toronto’s struggles in finishing games and performing late in the year are at least in part because they have played more games than all but a handful of teams in the league.
If you don’t think TFC’s record is enough proof, have a look at Seattle. The Sounders have been playoff busts in each of their three seasons despite being one of the most talented teams in the league.
Seattle has prioritized wining the US Open Cup and playing in the CONCACAF Champions League.
It’s also not likely a coincidence that the LA Galaxy finally won a MLS Cup last year when its top players didn’t go out on loan in the off-season and the club didn’t schedule a boatload of cash-grab friendlies.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that MLS success is at least partly dependent on Cup failure.
So, outside of the hardcore fan, there probably aren’t too many in Montreal today that are crying about the loss. With 11 points the Impact find themselves surprisingly in a playoff spot. Succeeding in the league is 100 times more important for Montreal in 2012 than a Voyageurs Cup run is.
The hard truth is the majority of fans in all three Canadian MLS cities are either ambivalent, indifferent or, in some cases outright hostile towards the competition. It’s not uncommon to hear fans refer to a Voyageurs Cup game as a friendly.
Success in the competition is nice, but it hardly resonates beyond a select few fans and even then it’s long forgotten by the time the season ends.
It’s common to hear the fact that TFC has failed to make the playoffs for five years. You almost never hear that the Reds have won three straight Voyageurs Cups.
The CONCACAF Champions League is even more of a non-factor. Sure, there are notable exceptions—most notably the 2008 game in Olympic Stadium and this past spring’s game at Rogers—but for the most part the CCL is just extra games against teams with funny names. Attendance statistics support the idea that few care.
Every Impact fan wants to beat TFC every time the club’s play. But, it seems likely that the vast majority of fans in Montreal will gladly take Wednesday’s result if it means that the Impact will be in the MLS Cup playoffs.
That prize is of far greater importance.