Toronto FC was back in training on Monday ahead of what is shaping up to be an important and busy week.
Here are some news and notes from today’s practice.
TWO GAMES IN FIVE DAYS FOR THE REDS
Fresh off a big 3-1 road win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday, TFC has a busy week ahead of themselves, as they host the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday and then take on the Impact in Montreal on Sunday afternoon.
Coach Greg Vanney confirmed Monday that there are no new injury concerns coming out of the Chicago game, so he’ll have a full complement of players to choose from, with the exceptions of defender Nick Hagglund and midfielder Benoit Cheyrou, who are both sidelined with long-term ailments.
With the team close to full health, look for Vanney to rotate his squad to a certain degree over the course of these next two contests.
“That’s fair to say,” Vanney admitted.
“It’s one of those weeks where some guys have earned [the right to start], and some guys are pushing, ands guys that we want to keep going will have the chance to step up and play a role.
“That’s where we are with the last nine games [of the season], is guys have made their case for minutes down the stretch and being reliable as we push towards the playoffs. That’s what these last nine games are about: our form as we get to the end.”
CHASING MLS HISTORY, GREATNESS
With the win on Saturday, TFC (14-3-8) now has 50 points on the season, and continues to sit atop the MLS standings with a four-point lead on New York City FC and a nine-point cushion on Chicago.
The Reds look to be a sure bet to win the Supporters’ Shield trophy, awarded to the club that finishes the regular season in first place. Winning the honour not only means a first-round bye in the playoffs, but also ensures home-field advantage throughout the post-season.
But the Supporters’ Shield isn’t the only thing Toronto is chasing. The 1998 LA Galaxy holds the record for most points in a single MLS season with 68 – although that was when MLS played a 32-game schedule (two less than right now).
Comparisons have already been drawn between TFC and that L.A. side regarding which should be considered the best in MLS history. Vanney played on that 1998 team, but he leaves no doubt as to which is better.
“This team’s better. Our ‘98 team had an incredible attacking confidence to it, and guys knew that every game we went into that we were going to score – it was more of a discussion of who was going to score first and how many. But I think we had a losing record against the other top three teams in the league,” Vanney said.
The league was much different in 1998. Shootouts were held if teams were tied after 90 minutes of regulation, and the financial resources that clubs have now to spend on marquee players compared to back then is night and day.
Vanney acknowledges those differences, but he’d still give the nod to Toronto.
“In terms of being well rounded, in terms of quality from top to bottom, this team has better balance,” TFC’s coach stated.
Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio, one of Toronto’s longest-serving players, admitted that he and his teammates are aware of L.A.’s record, and he is proud that TFC is in the discussion of being the greatest MLS team of all-time.
The Reds’ potentially record-breaking 2017 campaign is also a sign of how far this franchise has come since Osorio made his debut in 2013 when the team had yet to make the playoffs or enjoy a single winning season.
But Osorio maintains that nobody is getting ahead of themselves.
“It just goes to show you how far we’ve come. For me, for a local guy who started at this club, that’s special. We haven’t really talked about the record, though. It’s more in the back of our minds,” Osorio told Sportsnet.
“At the end of the day, our number one goal is to win MLS Cup. We want to finish first and win the Supporters’ Shield because that can help us win the Cup. As we get close to the end of the season, I’m sure we’ll use the record as more motivation, but for now, our goal is the MLS Cup. That’s entirely what we’re focused on.”
Midfielder Benoit Cheyrou remains out long term with a calf tear. The Frenchman suffered the injury during a 1-1 draw at home against the Colorado Rapids on July 22 and was originally ruled out for at least eight weeks. There’s no update on his condition, although Cheyrou told Sportsnet that he’s feeling better.
Cheyrou continues to do low-impact workouts, including riding a stationary bike. He is expected to have an MRI in the near future, and Vanney said that will give the team an indication as to how much healing has taken place and how quickly he can be integrated back into the team.
LOOKING AHEAD TO PHILADELPHIA
Wednesday’s match is the second and final regular-season meeting between Toronto and Philadelphia. The teams battled to a 2-2 draw in Pennsylvania during the second week of the campaign, with Jozy Altidore and Justin Morrow scoring for the Reds.
The Union are coming off a 2-2 draw on the road against the San Jose Earthquakes this past weekend and have just one win in their last four contests.
Philadelphia currently sits ninth in the Eastern Conference with 30 points and an 8-11-6 record, three spots and six points out of a playoff berth. What’s more, the Montreal Impact, who hold down the sixth and final post-season spot, have a game in hand on Philly.
“They have guys who are quick into the counter attack. [Forward] C.J. Sapong, when he finds the right spaces, he’s a handful to deal with. … [Midfielder Fafà] Picault is very quick and very elusive, and comes off the wing. [Haris] Medunjanin is a fantastic passer who can divide the field, and share the game and spread it around,” Vanney said.
“They have very good pieces so it’s important for us to on the day that we don’t allow them to find a rhythm or to find these transition moments or counter attack moments where they can play into C.J. or off of C.J., bring guys into the attack and create things.”