October 13, 2016 - 6:00 AM
TORONTO - The giant North Star Bell has rung 29 times in league play this season, marking every goal by the Montreal Impact at Saputo Stadium.
But the big bell in Section 114, installed by the 1642 MTL supporters' club, has been quiet when Toronto FC visits. Toronto won 2-0 in Montreal on April 23 in MLS play and drew 0-0 there in Amway Canadian Championship Cup play on June 8.
"I don't know what it sounds like," goalkeeper Clint Irwin said with a smile. "I plan on not hearing what it sounds like."
Toronto (13-9-10) visits Montreal (11-10-11) on Sunday in a game that sees both teams looking to consolidate their playoff position.
Third-place Toronto goes into its two final games of the season needing to make up a two-point gap in the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC (both 14-9-9) in the Eastern Conference if it wants a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Montreal is looking to firm up its fourth-place position to open the post-season at home.
Toronto's offence will be bolstered by the return of star striker Sebastian Giovinco, who has not played since suffering strains in his quadriceps and adductor in a 1-0 loss to Montreal at BMO Field on Aug. 27. The Italian has returned to full training and looked lively, able to access his full arsenal, according to head coach Greg Vanney.
Toronto is 1-1-3 since the loss to the Impact. Montreal has won two straight but is only 2-3-1 since beating Toronto in August.
"I think it's a great game to have right now," Vanney said. "We haven't played on the road in a little while so this will give us a road match for that mentality going down the stretch.
"I think playing in Montreal will always give you this high-intensity feel. It's a sellout, from what I understand so it will have the feeling of a playoff game which is always nice to have at this time of year. So I think all things considered, it's good timing for this. Obviously we're trying to position ourselves in the top two and if we get a result there we put them in a real tough situation as they go into New England potentially vying for that last playoff spot."
While the top two teams in each conference sit out the first round of the playoffs, No. 3 hosts No. 6 and No. 4 entertains No. 5 in single-game knockouts.
MLSsoccer.com, using teams' record of winning points at home and away, projects Toronto and Montreal to remain third and fourth, respectively, behind the New York clubs when the regular-season dust settles.
The Red Bulls host Columbus on Sunday before visiting Philadelphia. New York City visits D.C. United on Sunday and then visits Columbus.
Toronto closes out the regular season at home to the Chicago Fire while the Impact finish at New England.
Toronto slipped to sixth in the waning days of last season and lost 3-0 in Montreal in its franchise playoff debut. This season it cannot finish lower than fourth, so a first home playoff game is coming.
While Vanney says last year's playoff loss in Montreal escalated an already intense rivalry, he has urged his players to look forward and not back.
"We need to stay focused on the task at hand and not try to come back and change something in the past, because what's done is done," he said.
Toronto midfielder Will Johnson (knee sprain) is questionable while fullback Ashtone Morgan (foot) remains out. Midfielder Jay Chapman is available after sitting out with a knee injury.
Jair Marrufo has been assigned to referee Sunday's game. He has given out one red and 40 yellow cards in 16 outings this season.
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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016