TFC notebook: Reds need ‘playoff style’ soccer till season’s end

Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco (10) is fouled by Montreal Impact defender Rudy Camacho (4). (Frank Gunn/CP)

Toronto FC was back in training on Monday ahead of its home game against the LA Galaxy this weekend.

Here are some news and notes from the day’s practice.

BYE WEEK ALLOWS TFC TO RESET

TFC has been off since suffering a 4-2 home loss to LAFC on Sept. 1 that dealt a crushing blow to their chances of qualifying for the playoffs – more on that in a moment.

The bye week due to the international break gave TFC players a chance to physically recuperate from a demanding stretch that saw the team play four times in a 15-day period and concluded with the loss to LAFC.

“It was good to slow down from what feels like a really quick succession of games and travel. … It was good for the guys to have a weekend to clear their heads, come back and start to prepare for the final stretch,” Vanney told Sportsnet.

The time off also allowed players to mentally reset, and gear up for the final seven games of the regular season, a stretch that will see the Reds play three times on the road.

“That’s the idea… We’ll see how clear our minds are. In terms of timing, we probably could have used the break earlier in the season to try to regroup. But it’s a good time [because] now we have a very defined future in front of us and needing to get wins,” Vanney stated.

PLAYOFF HOPES HANGING BY A THREAD

Simply put: It’s looking dire for Toronto FC when it comes to the post-season picture.

The Reds (7-14-6) sit ninth in the Eastern Conference, nine points and three spots back of the Montreal Impact who hold down the sixth and final playoff berth in the East.

TFC does have a game in hand on the Impact and still have to go to Montreal next month. But time is running out, as there are only seven games left in the season. What’s more, D.C. United is on a roll, having climbed out the basement into eighth in the East, and they have a game in hand on Toronto – and two on Montreal.

Realistically, the Reds will have win at least six of their last seven games to have a chance at the playoffs, and even that might not be enough.

“Our mentality is mostly about understanding what we have to do, which is, I wouldn’t say play flawless soccer, but we certainly can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. We have to play playoff style soccer between now and the end of the season to give ourselves an opportunity [to make the playoffs],” Vanney conceded.

“There’s a real challenge in front of us. I don’t know if I’d say there’s an optimism or anything [amongst the players]; it’s more a recognition and awareness of what has to get done for us to get there, and this is the position that we find ourselves in and have put ourselves in for a variety of reasons.”

Vanney called Saturday’s game a must-win for TFC, without actually using that term.

“We have to win this Galaxy game. That sets us up to for the next game [on the road vs. New York Red Bulls], which is always a tough place to play, to get a result there and then be able to run the rest of the table,” Vanney explained.

INJURY UPDATES

Vanney confirmed that Auro Jr. is expected to return to full training this week, and he could be available for selection on Saturday after missing the Reds’ last five games with a hamstring injury.

The Brazilian fullback only returned to action on Aug. 4 after a lengthy injury spell that saw him miss all six of TFC’s league games and both legs of the Canadian Championship semifinals during the month of July. In total, Auro has been limited to 14 league appearances (12 as a starter) this season.

Vanney also confirmed that Chris Mavinga, who has been battling a hamstring injury, is a little further away from returning. Like Auro, Mavinga has missed the last five games, and he has played in only seven MLS matches (six as a starter) this season due to injuries.

The club hopes to run one or two final diagnostic tests on the defender before reintegrating him back into training, Vanney explained.

PLAYERS AWAY ON INTERNATIONAL DUTY

Midfielders Liam Fraser and Jonathan Osorio, and forward Tosaint Ricketts are on their way back to Toronto from Florida where Canada defeated the U.S. Virgin Island 8-0 on Sunday in a Concacaf Nations League qualifier. Osorio scored one goal in 90 minutes of play, while Ricketts came on as a substitute for the last 20 minutes. Fraser didn’t see any action.

“It’s almost not surprising to say now that [Osorio] scored,” Vanney quipped.

Goalkeeper Alex Bono and midfielder Marky Delgado are still with the U.S. national team, who plays Mexico on Tuesday in an international friendly in Nashville. The U.S. dropped a 2-0 decision to Brazil last Friday in New Jersey. Delgado came on as a substitute in the 83rd minute. Bono didn’t play.

Vanney expects Bono and Delgado to be back in training with TFC on Thursday.

LOOKING AHEAD TO L.A.

Los Angeles (10-10-8) sits eighth in the Western Conference, three points and two spots out of a playoff berth. The Galaxy are winless in their last six matches (three losses), with their last victory coming on July 29.

On Monday, the Galaxy confirmed that Sigi Schmid stepped down as coach and that his former assistant Dominic Kinnear will take over the reins on an interim basis.

This was Schmid’s second stint in charge of the Galaxy. He 65-year-old is a two-time MLS coach of the year (1999 and 2008). He also has won two MLS Cups (with LA in 2002 and Columbus in 2008), and is the winningest coach in MLS history with 266 victories in regular and post-season play.

“They’ve played in a number of ways and formations this year under Sigi, so it’ll be interesting to see how they’ll come out under [Kinnear] on Saturday. I honestly don’t know, so it makes it a little bit harder to prepare for them,” Vanney admitted.

Saturday’s game at BMO Field between TFC and the LA Galaxy is the first and only meeting of this season between the two clubs. TFC and the Galaxy faced each other once in 2017 – the Reds romped to a 4-0 road win. In total, Toronto has won each of its three previous meetings against LA by combined score of 9-0. The Galaxy last beat TFC on Oct. 4, 2014.

NOTE: I spoke one-on-one and at length with coach Greg Vanney and veteran defender Drew Moor after Monday’s practice on a variety of subjects. Look for my feature stories later this week on Sportsnet.ca.

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