TORONTO — The Amway Canadian Championship can get lost amid a busy Major League Soccer season, Greg Vanney says.
But the Toronto FC coach has the Canadian derby pencilled in at the top of his priority list for a number of reasons.
Toronto hosts the Vancouver Whitecaps on Tuesday in the opening leg of the two-game championship final. The series winner will hoist the Voyageurs Cup and earn a spot in the 2017-18 CONCACAF Champions League.
"It's very important," Vanney said Monday. "Just for our group, winning a championship is obviously one of the major goals. Also for our group, there's ambition to play an international sort of competition.
"And obviously too we want to establish ourselves as the best team in Canada. That's another little piece of that obviously, and I think the Canadian Championships is another one of those traditions that you want to try to hold onto and win and really set your foot down," he added. It's an important event we take seriously and we want to win it."
Toronto defeated the Montreal Impact 4-2 on aggregate to advance, while Vancouver rallied to knock off Ottawa Fury FC 3-2 on aggregate. The series heads to Vancouver for the second leg on June 29.
The defending champion Whitecaps have no plans of giving up the cup.
"It's a Cup match and we have this trophy," said Vancouver midfielder Russell Teibert, a Canadian international. "We remember all the great feelings that we had that came with winning. We want to replicate that this year.
"We take pride in being Canadian champions and we want to be Canadian champions again this year."
The game comes early in a gruelling stretch of five games in 15 days for Toronto — and a schedule nearly as busy for Vancouver — so managing playing time becomes key.
"Everyone has to be ready, everybody is going to get called upon over the next two weeks," Vanney said. "We went through a little bit of that in the Montreal series where a lot of guys got (playing) time through injuries and call-ups, and various things, and guys played well. So they've earned the opportunity to continue to get time, and these are all important matches."
Jordan Hamilton, a 20-year-old from Toronto, was one of the young players who came up big when called upon, scoring two goals in the Reds' 4-2 win over Montreal in the first leg of the semifinals.
"It's a Canadian championship we haven't won in a while, so hopefully we can go out there at home and get a decent lead and close it out in Vancouver," Hamilton said.
The Reds have won four of the eight Canadian Championships awarded, but their most recent was four years ago. The Whitecaps' lone victory last year featured Steven Beitashour, who was acquired in a trade by Toronto after spending two seasons in Vancouver.
"It's going to be similar to the first time we played them (a 4-3 league loss on May 14)," Beitashour said of Tuesday's game. "They're a very organized team, well-coached team, so they're going to come out here and be disciplined. . . we have to stick to our game plan and execute better than we did last time."
Toronto will still be missing two of its stars in midfielder Michael Bradley, who is with the U.S. team, and Jozy Altidore (hamstring). But through the various lineup changes Vanney has been pleased with the depth in his squad.
"Through the pre-season I thought we started to have sort of two different groups, and both groups were doing very well, no matter what the scenario was. So I knew that our young guys were maturing quickly, and that they would play a factor on the season if they could step up," Vanney said.
"It's been good to see that when guys are called upon, they have the confidence and have found the sharpness and all those kinds of things to have an impact.
This week's busy schedule should provide a good gauge of how the BMO Field pitch will hold up under various sports. The Toronto Argonauts host Hamilton in their CFL season opener on Thursday. Then Canada's rugby team hosts Ireland in a game there on Sunday.
Follow @ewingsports on Twitter