Toronto FC was back in training on Tuesday after clinching the Supporters’ Shield over the weekend.
Here are some news and notes from practice.
THE BYE WEEK
TFC is still beaming from its 4-2 home win over the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, a result that clinched the Supporters’ Shield, the trophy that goes to the club that finishes the MLS regular season in first place. Winning the Shield comes with the added bonus of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, including the MLS Cup final on Dec. 9.
Now the Reds get to rest and recuperate a little bit, as they have a bye this week due to the international break. TFC doesn’t return to action until Oct. 15 when they host the Montreal Impact.
In an ideal world, Toronto coach Greg Vanney would like to be playing a game this weekend, and keep his team’s momentum going.
“It is what it is. I don’t know if we can say [the break] is good or bad. I like the rhythm of playing at least once a week. I think we have a good routine with that, and the guys are locked in on that routine,” Vanney explained.
THE INTERNATIONAL BREAK
A number of TFC players are not in town at the moment, as they are away on international duty.
Captain Michael Bradley and forward Jozy Altidore (United States), winger Armando Cooper (Panama) and wingback Nicolas Halser (Liechtenstein) are set to play in World Cup qualifying games for their countries. Midfielder Jonathan Osorio, winger Raheem Edwards and forward Tosaint Ricketts are away with Canada, who will play El Salvador on Oct. 8 in a friendly in Houston, Texas.
“To have guys go away and play in such big games right now, it’s good, it’s exciting for them. But it’s not easy to have your attention on two things that are highly important at this time of the year. That’s always a challenge as we get down to the stretch and we’re close to the playoffs,” Vanney offered.
“[But] we manage it. We never look at it as a big burden. We just look at it as something we have to deal with.”
Vanney said he doesn’t keep close tabs on the players when they’re away on international duty. He’ll send them the odd text, but other than that he leaves them alone to focus on their national team duties. Still, it’s a nerve-wracking situation for Vanney as he doesn’t want to see his players pick up injuries that could rule them out for the final two games of the regular season and the playoffs.
“It’s an honour for them to be there, and it’s a part of the game,” Vanney said. “Our hope is that they can go there and perform great and then come back healthy.”
MORROW NAMED PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Wingback Justin Morrow scored a hat trick on Saturday to help guide Toronto to the win over New York. It was the first time he scored three goals in a game in his career.
He was voted man of the match after the final whistle blew, and he picked up another honour on Tuesday when he was named the MLS player of the week.
Morrow has scored a career-high eight goals this season. His hat trick on the weekend, which came in his 200th league appearance, moved him past Danny Dichio as the sixth-highest scorer in the regular season in TFC history with 15 goals.
Morrow has developed into a dangerous goal-scoring threat this year for the Reds, but he downplays his influence in the attacking third of the pitch.
“I don’t see it that way. I just help out the team when I can. A lot of my goals have come in either wins or ties, because we’ve won or tied so many games this year. That’s the most important thing, that I’ve helped the team get results,” Morrow said.
POINTS RECORD IN SIGHT
After winning the Supporters’ Shield, TFC now turns its attention to making history.
The Reds currently sit on 65 points and have two games remaining to eclipse the league record for most points in a single season – the LA Galaxy collected 68 points during the 1998 campaign. Toronto hosts the Montreal Impact on Oct. 15 and visits Atlanta United FC the following weekend.
Vanney would like to see TFC set the record, but maintains it’s not a priority. He’s more interested in seeing his team put in two quality performances in these games to build some momentum going into the playoffs.
“If we [play well] then hopefully the points will follow. We’re going to stick with that line, and just keep concentrating on out performances. Good things will happen for this team if we do,” Vanney offered.
Vanney expects top scorer Sebastian Giovinco to be available for the Reds’ next game after sitting out the last four matches due to quad tightness.
It was a light training session on Tuesday and Giovinco took part. Practices will get more intense as the week progresses, with Giovinco expected to participate as he works his way back to fitness.
“We’ll slowly progress him this week in that hope that by next week that he’ll be ready to be all in and ready to start going forward,” Vanney said.
Giovinco last played in TFC’s 4-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes at BMO Field on Sept. 9. The Italian leads the team in scoring this season with 15 goals in 23 games.
LOOKING AHEAD TO MONTREAL
The Oct. 15 match at BMO Field is the third and final regular season meeting between TFC and the Impact. The Reds earned a 3-1 win in Montreal on Aug. 27, while the Impact beat TFC 5-3 at BMO Field on Sept. 20
While TFC have already clinched a post-season berth, the Impact are fighting for their playoff lives. Montreal sits seventh in the Eastern Conference, one position and four points behind the New York Red Bulls who hold down the final playoff spot in the East.
New York also has a game in hand, and can eliminate Montreal from playoff contention with a win at home over the Vancouver Whitecaps this weekend.
Vanney will spend this week’s training sessions on maintaining sharpness and keeping everybody fit. All of his defenders are still in town, so he plans to work with them, too. A game plan for the Montreal match won’t come together until next week when everybody is back from international duty.
“We have a fair number of guys gone, so to go over any broad tactics [for the Montreal game] isn’t the top of our priority list the next few days,” Vanney said.