The Montreal-Toronto FC rivalry reached a new level of intrigue Wednesday when the Impact fired coach Remi Garde and replaced him with Wilmer Cabrera.
Cabrera, who was fired by the Houston Dynamo on Aug. 13, will be in charge when the Impact (10-13-4, 34 points) travel to Toronto on Saturday for a crucial Eastern Conference matchup.
The Impact and Toronto (9-10-7, 34 points) are tied with Orlando City for the seventh and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. TFC has played one fewer match than the other two. In the tight race, the New England Revolution are one point ahead of the trio and the Chicago Fire are one point back of the three.
That may have something to do with the timing in the firing of Garde, who was 24-29-8 in his second season. Montreal is 1-6-1 in its past eight games and blew a three-goal lead at home and settled for a 3-3 tie with FC Dallas on Aug. 17.
Cabrera knows what's at stake.
"Coaches are tools for the players to be successful," he said Thursday. "If we're good tools, we'll be used. If we're not a good tool, we'll be disposed and the next tool will be coming. I'm going to try and be a good tool for the players, if they're successful, maybe I'll be talking in French for a long time."
A positive result for Toronto, which used a 90th-minute goal by Jozy Altidore to tie Columbus 2-2 on Aug. 17, would go a long way to securing a top seven spot.
Midfielder Jonathan Osorio is confident TFC will rise to the challenge.
"How can you not look around this locker room and believe that you're a playoff team?" he said. "But it's one thing believing in it and saying it, and it's another thing showing it. We have to show it on the field. That's the last thing we have to do. We have to realize we have a big chance."