Canadian champions? The best team in the country? The pride of Canada?
Not on this night.
The Montreal Impact looked like anything but defending champions Wednesday at BMO Field, dropping a 1-0 decision to Toronto FC in a Canadian club championship matchup.
Chad Barrett scored the lone goal for Toronto, handing a limp Impact side a loss in their first game of the tournament.
Toronto, which beat the Vancouver Whitecaps last week in the competition's curtain raiser, leads the standings with six points and is in prime position to strip the Impact of its crown.
Canadian club championship
The Canadian club championship is a three-team round-robin tournament involving Toronto FC (Canada's lone Major League Soccer club) and the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps, which compete in the USL First Division (one level below MLS).
The competition also serves as the Canadian qualifying tournament for the CONCACAF Champions League.
The Canadian club championship runs through June 18, with each team hosting two games. The top team in the final standings will be Canada's representative at the CONCACAF Champions League, an international club competition that crowns the best pro team in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The CONCACAF Champions League winner then goes on to play at the FIFA World Club Championship in the United Arab Emirates in December 2009 against continental champions from Europe, South America, Asia and Africa. English giants Manchester United won the 2008 FIFA World Club Championship.
The Impact won last year's inaugural Canadian club championship.
Montreal captured the imagination of soccer fans across Canada last year when it won the inaugural Canadian club championship and then defied the odds by reaching the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
But the Impact showed little spark or imagination against its MLS rival. Toronto's central defensive pair of Adrian Serioux and Marco Velez easily handcuffed Montreal forwards Roberto Brown and Zanzan Atte-oudeyi, and goalkeeper Stefan Frei only had to make one save on the night.
"Maybe we could have earned a tie, but we didn't do enough to win the game," conceded Impact coach John Limniatis, who went on to bemoan a controversial offside call in the first half that negated a Montreal goal.
Barrett should have had a couple of goals, but the Toronto forward squandered several scoring chances, including a glorious opportunity on a one-on-one breakaway in the final minutes.
"I made the game more closer than it needed to be because we dominated the game. I gotta finish those chances," Barrett admitted.
Toronto coach Chris Cummins tinkered with his starting lineup, deploying defender Marvell Wynne up front on the right wing in an attacking 4-3-3 formation. Wynne didn't make it to halftime, though, as he was substituted out in the 16th minute because of a hamstring injury and was replaced by Barrett.
"I want to play 4-3-3, and within that system you need good athletes, and I wanted to have a look at Marvell up there," Cummins said of his decision to play Wynne as a forward.
Toronto swarmed the Impact defence right from the opening kickoff. Dwayne De Rosario tormented the Montreal back line with his speed and trickery, carving out two scoring chances inside the first 10 minutes.
The home side poured on the pressure, with De Rosario and rookie Sam Cronin both hitting the post with long-range efforts before Barrett broke the deadlock in the 35th minute. Barrett took a smart pass from captain Jim Brennan and smashed a fantastic volley from outside the box past Montreal goalkeeper Matt Jordan.
Barrett forced a sharp save out of Jordan early in the second half, delivering a stern warning to the Impact that Toronto had no intention of easing up.
Indeed, Toronto went for the jugular and it was a stretch of sustained offensive pressure that led to Impact midfielder David Testo losing his cool and earning a red card in the 71st minute for a dangerous foul on Cronin.
Toronto capitalized on its numeric advantage and broke out on a series of quick counter-attacks, but Jordan made a pair of brilliant saves on Amado Guevara and Carl Robinson when he appeared to be completely at their mercy.
Jordan's heroics didn't inspire his teammates, though, as the Impact couldn't conjure up a scoring chance and Toronto held on for the win.
"I think we dominated from beginning to end," Brennan said.
The Canadian club championship continues next Wednesday when Montreal hosts Vancouver.