TORONTO – A rash of injuries to starters and depth players isn’t the only thing that’s been killing Toronto FC this season.
Slow starts to games have also taken a heavy toll on TFC, who boast a meagre 2-6-1 record and currently sit second-last in the overall MLS standings.
Last Saturday’s 3-2 loss away to the New England Revolution saw the Reds cough up goals in the fourth and seventh minutes to put themselves in a deep hole out of which they couldn’t climb. This continued a disturbing trend for Toronto, as it has conceded six times in the opening 15 minutes across five matches in MLS and CONCACAF Champions League play in 2018.
Clearly, starting games stronger is something the reigning MLS Cup champs have to work on, but that doesn’t necessarily mean outscoring the opposition, although that would be ideal. Mostly, coach Greg Vanney wants to see his players make sound decisions on the pitch, and be stingier in defending its penalty area.
“For me, it’s not a matter of always winning the first 15 minutes. It’s about setting up the game for it to look like how we want it to look,” Vanney explained ahead of Friday night’s contest against Orlando City at BMO Field.
“There are certain things that we feel we’re good at as a team, and there’s ways we want the game to look over the long haul to give ourselves the best chance to be successful. None of those have us giving away goals in the first 15 minutes as a positive thing.”
He later added: “When you [concede] early, the opposition loses its incentive to step out and try to attack a little bit more.”
Another thing Vanney would like to see from his players is for them to be more solid and composed in possession, which would have a positive effect on the defence.
“If you lose balls in tough positions, you’re going to put your back line into some difficult situations. Against New England, the first two goals are us losing balls right in front of our back line. Those are difficult situations. You’re in crisis mode, and we want to take away these moments when we’re in crisis mode, and be better with the ball,” Vanney explained.
Of course, TFC can force opponents out of their defensive or cautious posture by scoring early themselves.
“Doing that means that immediately the opposition has to reassess its approach to the game, which is typical a good thing for us,” Vanney offered.
It’s a sentiment echoed by captain Michael Bradley.
“In general, our ability to get the first goal, to get the lead, it means that teams have to, in a lot of cases, alter their approach, start to step out and be a little more aggressive. That means there’s space for us to play into, to play through. We have been a team that has been able to win a lot of games in those ways,” Bradley explained.
“Having said that, our ability to come back and our ability to come from behind and win games has also been something that’s been a big positive for us. Obviously, you don’t want to feel like you’ve got to come from behind every week because mentally and physically, that’s a challenge.”
Defenders Eriq Zavaleta and Nick Hagglund have been out injured for several weeks, but both have participated in training sessions this week. Vanney hinted on Thursday that while Hagglund still needs a little more time to recover before he can play again, Zavaleta will likely see action against Orlando.
Gregory van der Wiel will also be available versus Orlando. The Dutch defender has been dealing with an Achilles issue all season, and he sat out the loss in New England as a precaution. Fellow defender Chris Mavinga came on as second-half substitute against the Revolution after a lengthy injury absence. The Frenchman is expected to see more minutes on Friday.
Midfielder Nico Hasler (quad strain) and left fullback Justin Morrow (calf) remain on the sidelines. While Hasler is close to returning, Morrow is not yet ready to rejoin the team in full training sessions.
Forward Jozy Altidore (foot) and defender Drew Moor (quad tear) remain out long-term. Also, Sebastian Giovinco is suspended for Friday’s game after picking up a red card against New England.
ORLANDO FINDS WAYS TO WIN
Toronto and Orlando met twice in 2017, with TFC winning both times. The Florida club features a pair of former Toronto players in goalkeeper Joe Bendik and Canadian midfielder Will Johnson.
Orlando sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a 6-3-1 record this season, and is coming off of a 2-1 home loss to Atlanta United.
“They’ve got off to a good start. They’ve been stingy about getting results – not always playing great, but finding ways to get a result out of it,” Vanney offered.
“[They’ve] found ways to get wins, regardless of having great performances or not having great performances. There’s something to be said for that.”