Toronto FC was back in training today ahead of busy stretch that will see them play two games in two competitions in three days later this week.
Here are some news and notes from Monday’s practice at the club’s training facility in Downsview.
A CANADIAN RIVALRY RENEWED
Fresh off their 2-0 win over D.C. United at home this weekend, the Reds now prepare for a showdown with the Montreal Impact in Wednesday’s first leg of the Canadian Championship final at Stade Saputo.
The opener of this aggregate series marks the first time these clubs have met since last year’s epic playoff matchup that saw TFC beat the Impact in the Eastern Conference final, regarded as one of the best post-season series in MLS history.
Not only is Toronto looking to defend its Canadian title, but a victory in the two-game final would allow them to clinch a berth in next season’s CONCACAF Champions League.
Coach Greg Vanney believes the fact these teams have played so many meaningful games over the years, be it in the playoffs or Canadian Championship, fuels what is a very intense rivalry.
“We keep finding ourselves in matches and matches that matter … It always makes for excitement because there’s so much emotion involved, and that’s ultimately what makes [a good rivalry],” Vanney stated.
Needless to say, Vanney won’t have to do much to get his players motivated.
“It’s going to be a good one. I know those guys are going to be riled up for it. … We have to be prepared to defend our championship,” winger Raheem Edwards said.
“There’s always a rivalry between us and the Impact. Any game, whether it be Canadian Championship or MLS, we treat it as a rivalry match. It’s going to be a good one.”
TFC always seems to get a rude reception from Impact fans whenever they play in Montreal, both at Stade Saputo or Olympic Stadium. Vanney admitted that’s one of the things he enjoys about the rivalry between the two Canadian clubs.
“I like that aspect of it; I like that it’s a bit unfriendly. It becomes you and your team, and us against them, and that’s what it should be about – that’s why these rivalries are so special,” Vanney said.
Edwards recently made his debut for Canada’s senior team in a 2-1 win over Curacao in an international friendly held at Stade Saputo. While he was in training camp with the Canadian side, Edwards traded friendly jabs with Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier, reminding him of the upcoming game against one another.
Edwards hasn’t reached out to Bernier since, but joked he’ll likely send him a few texts before Wednesday’s contest.
“I hope he’s ready for Wednesday,” Edwards quipped.
SHORT TURNAROUND FOR TFC
Toronto won’t have much time to recover after Wednesday’s tilt in Montreal, as less than 48 hours later they’ll host the New England Revolution in MLS action.
It’s not exactly ideal for TFC from a preparation standpoint, but they’re not harping on about the short turnaround. There’s simply nothing they can do about the schedule at this point.
“At this point in the season and given our group, it’s a lot about doing things that we’re used to doing [in training]. You can’t spend too much time on the opposition. We’ve got to be masterful at the things we’re supposed to be good at,” Vanney offered.
It’s a message that has clearly filtered down to his players.
“We just have to accept it’s going to be a hectic week, so guys have to be ready to play,” Edwards said.
ROTATION, ROTATION, ROTATION
With two games in the span of three days, Vanney is going to have to rely on his depth and bench players this week.
Canadian Championship rules stipulate clubs must have three Canadians in their starting lineups. This fact, combined with the short turnaround, will likely mean Vanney will field two very different teams on Wednesday and Friday.
TFC’s coach admitted he had basic lineups planned going into this week’s two games, but said they’re not written in stone.
“It’s always great when plans go exactly how you want them to, but it’s a starting plan, and based on things going as well as possible, we’ll try not to go too far away from it,” Vanney said.
Captain Michael Bradley is suspended for Friday’s MLS home game against the New England Revolution, so expect the American international to be in the starting 11 versus the Impact.
Vanney confirmed that backup goalkeeper Clint Irwin, and not Alex Bono, will start Wednesday’s opening leg in Montreal. Irwin started both legs of the Canadian Championship semifinals against the Ottawa Fury.
Canadian forward Tosaint Ricketts remains sidelined with a hamstring strain. He’s missed the last two MLS matches, but Vanney said he could return to action for Friday’s game against the Revolution.
Nick Hagglund is still recovering from a torn MCL. He’s been out since mid-May, and was training on his own Monday, mostly doing wind sprints. He continues to make good progress and should be able to return sometime in August.
Vanney said there are no other injury concerns at the moment.
QUICK LOOK AHEAD TO NEW ENGLAND
Friday marks the second of three contests between TFC and the Revolution.
The Revs earned a 3-0 home win on June 3, a result that ended Toronto’s eight-game unbeaten run (seven wins) in MLS. It was only Toronto’s second loss in MLS, and their worst performance of the season.
“Obviously, we were disappointed with the loss in New England, so we feel like we owe those guys something,” Edwards stated.
TFC hosts the Impact next Tuesday in the return leg of the Canadian Championship final, and then takes on FC Dallas in Texas in MLS play next Saturday.