After having the weekend off, Toronto FC was back in training on Monday ahead of its playoff game against the Columbus Crew next week.
Here are some news and notes from today’s practice.
Still waiting on Altidore decision
Toronto coach Greg Vanney confirmed that the club is still waiting to hear whether or not Jozy Altidore’s suspension will be overturned.
Vanney said he’s not aware of any timeline as to when a decision will be rendered.
“My assumption is that they’re trying to gather as much information to get to a clear conclusion. It seems like there’s enough to continue to be looking and/or talking about it,” Vanney told reporters after practice.
Altidore and New York Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan picked up red cards in last week’s second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals for their parts in the halftime melee between both teams in the tunnel at BMO Field. As a result of the red card, Altidore earned an automatic one-game suspension, ruling him out for the first leg of the Eastern Conference final against the Columbus Crew.
TFC filed an appeal that is now in the hands of the independent panel (made up of one representative from the United States Soccer Federation, one from the Canadian Soccer Association and a former referee) that will review the case. Toronto hopes the panel will rescind Altidore’s red card, which would clear him to play in next Tuesday’s game in Columbus.
“I would like for them to get to the correct conclusion. If the correct conclusion is that the two players [weren’t involved in the fracas in the tunnel] then that’ll be great. However, the more time we have to prepare a team with the guys that we know are going to play then that’s important, too,” Vanney offered.
If Altidore’s suspension remains intact, Toronto will be without its top two scorers for next week’s game in Ohio. Italian forward Sebastian Giovinco picked up his second yellow card of the New York playoff series last week, which means he’s suspended for the first leg of the Eastern Conference final in Columbus.
Vanney said he is preparing his team as though Altidore will play next week.
Can TFC win without Altidore & Giovinco?
It’s a question TFC will have to answer if it loses its appeal.
Toronto was without both Altidore and Giovinco for four games this season, with the club earning mixed results: a 5-0 home win over Columbus and a 4-0 road victory vs. Los Angeles; a 5-3 home loss to Montreal and a 2-1 setback in New England.
Giovinco (16 goals) and Altidore (15) accounted for 41.9 per cent of TFC’s league-leading 74 goals this season. Together, they combined for nine game-winning goals (five from Altidore), so you can understand why the Reds are fighting to get the American’s suspension overturned and have him play in the first leg.
If Altidore remains unavailable, look for Canadian striker Tosaint Ricketts to lead the line, and possibly see Spanish midfielder Victor Vazquez pushed forward in support.
Ricketts ranked fifth in team scoring this season with seven goals in 22 appearances. The Edmonton native only made nine starts, but one of them came in the 4-0 road win in L.A. on Sept. 16 when both Altidore and Giovinco were missing through injuries. He also scored a brace in the Reds’ very next game when both Altidore and Giovinco were again absent.
Vanney has talked all season about the quality of his side’s depth. Playing in Columbus without his top two scorers would be another chance to back up that claim, although TFC’s coach isn’t thinking about the game in those terms.
“At this point, we’re not trying to prove anything. We’re just focused on getting the best result we can to bring ourselves home and give ourselves a chance to win it. The series won’t end in Columbus,” Vanney said.
He later added: “We’re not going there to just try to get through the game. … We’re not sulking, and we don’t feel sorry for ourselves given the situation.”
Toronto hosts Columbus in the second leg at BMO Field on Nov. 29.
Injury report and international absences
Vanney confirmed Monday that the team doesn’t have any injury concerns at the moment, and that all players should be available for selection for Tuesday’s match in Ohio.
Defender Chris Mavinga is suffering from an abductor inflammation, and has been put on a modified regime during the past few days in training. Vanney said he expects the Frenchman to play in Columbus.
“The mindset of everybody, including him, is that he’ll be ready to go,” Vanney said.
Winger Armando Cooper is away on international duty for Panama, and played in a friendly against Iran in Graz, Austria last Thursday. Panama lost 2-1. The Central American nation will play another friendly against Wales on Tuesday in Cardiff, and Cooper is expected to return home after that in plenty of time for the Eastern Conference final first leg against Columbus.
Michael Bradley and Altidore were not called up by the U.S. national team for its friendly against Portugal in Lisbon on Tuesday, and instead have remained in Toronto. Vanney feels having nearly everybody in camp is an added bonus in terms of continuity ahead of this playoff series.
“It’s our first international break where, by and large, we’ve had the majority of the guys here. … It’s the first time during a season where we’ve been able to have an extended preparation with everyone around,” Vanney said.
All-time series vs. Columbus
TFC topped the Eastern Conference and the overall MLS standings with a 20-5-9 record and a league-record 69 points. Columbus (16-12-6) finished fifth in the East, 15 points adrift of Toronto.
The Crew did, however, hand TFC one of its five losses this season, earning a 2-1 home win on April 15. The Reds returned to Ohio the following month and beat the Crew 2-1, and then hammered Columbus 5-0 on May 26 in the final match of the campaign between the two sides.
This Eastern Conference final marks the first playoff encounter between TFC and the Crew, but they’re old rivals in regular-season play dating back to the Reds’ first MLS season in 2007. Columbus leads the all-time series against Toronto with 13 wins and 10 draws in 31 contests. The Crew have won nine of 17 games vs. Toronto in Columbus, while TFC have earned four wins in 18 matches vs. the Crew at BMO Field.
In direct matchups between Vanney and Columbus manager Gregg Berhalter, the teams have evenly split their nine matches, with three wins apiece and three draws. While Toronto is in the Conference championship for the second year running, Columbus have made it to the Eastern final for the second time in the last three years.
Vanney described recent matches between the two sides as tightly-contested, and tactical battles.
“Every game has had adaptations within it. So if ever one team is gaining an edge there’s usually a shift in tactics [from the other team] that can maybe disrupt the balance of power for a little while, and it goes back and forth. In that way, it’s never a straightforward matchup. It always has little twists and turns,” Vanney offered.