In 2011, Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps will begin meeting regularly in Major League Soccer games, an instant rivalry of the league’s two Canadian teams.

Consider tonight a preview.

The two sides play at picturesque Swangard Stadium with the Nutrilite Voyageurs Cup on the line.

A win or a tie by TFC and they would win the Canadian championship and set the stage for international competition in Toronto this summer, fall and, if things go well, into winter.

But a win by the hosts, the defending United Soccer Leagues First Division champions who have been given an MLS franchise to begin play the season after next, and the pressure will be on TFC to beat Montreal June 18 and then rely on tiebreakers to take the title.

“It’s a game for more than pride,” Bob Lenarduzzi, president of the Whitecaps and a former Canadian international, said yesterday.

“The natural rivalry between Toronto and Vancouver will look after itself when we are in MLS,” he said. “But we have a head start on it because it (tonight) is a pretty significant game.”

Toronto opened the second annual competition beating Vancouver 1-0 at BMO Field on May 6, a game dominated by the home side.

TFC followed that up a week later with a 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact, last year’s champions.

But Vancouver has climbed back into the race by beating Montreal in consecutive games — 2-0 on the road and 1-0 at Swangard last week to set up tonight’s key matchup.

“It’s an important game,” TFC coach Chris Cummins said before the team left Toronto. “It’d be the first bit of silverware for the club and, obviously, it’d give the fans something to talk about.”

The winner of the Canadian title gets to take part in the CONCACAF Champions League against the top teams in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

Should the Canadian championship be tied after group play, the winner will be determined by the following:

1. Most points in all group matches;

2. If two or more teams are tied, then the team with the greatest number of points in matches featuring tied teams;

3. If teams are still tied, then the greater goal difference in matches featuring tied teams.

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