Toronto FC was back in training on Monday ahead of its mid-week game against the Ottawa Fury in the semifinals of the Canadian Club Championship.
Here are some news and notes from the day’s practice.
A TURNING POINT FOR THE REDS?
Toronto kept alive its faint playoff hopes with a much-needed 2-1 road win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday. It was the team’s first victory since June 8, and it snapped a six-game winless skid.
TFC improved to 5-11-4 on the season with 19 points. They continue to sit in 10th in the Eastern Conference, four places and nine points behind the New England Revolution, who hold down the last playoff spot in the East.
“The mood is definitely different, it’s a lot more positive. … We see that this can be a big turning point in our season, but it only becomes a turning point if we keep like this,” said midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who scored the winning goal in Chicago.
“It doesn’t take one game to change everything; it’s one game to start things, and then you have to continue. We’re aware of that.”
Coach Greg Vanney thought his team was more connected defensively and tighter as a group in Chicago than in recent matches. And while he acknowledges the difficulty of the task at hand to get back into the playoff race, he’s confident the Reds can turn things around as the MLS regular season enters the home stretch.
“We know we have talent, we know we have the ability. Three months ago, we were arguably the best team in CONCACAF, and won everything last year. We know we have the quality – it’s just given what everybody has gone through over the course of the season, how quickly can we find our top form and go on a run,” Vanney explained.
TFC is getting closer to full health.
Saturday’s win over the Fire marked the return of forward Jozy Altidore and defender Chris Mavinga following lengthy injury absences. Both were included in the starting 11 – Altidore lasted 80 minutes before being subbed out, while Mavinga played 66 minutes.
Altidore didn’t score, but his return to the lineup was a big boost for the Reds.
“Just his presence, he’s a huge personality, a positive personality. That’s what we needed. … He’s huge for our locker-room and huge for our team,” Osorio said.
Altidore’s presence also opened up spaces for fellow forward Sebastian Giovinco, and gave the Italian more time on the ball.
“Nobody is happier [about Altidore’s return] than Seba, I can assure you. Jozy brings a lot to the equation; obviously, he draws a lot of attention [from defenders], and to have to man-mark Jozy with one guy is very difficult,” Vanney stated.
The only players still out are veteran central defender Drew Moor, who has been sidelined since April with a quad tear, and Brazilian fullback Auro Jr. (hamstring). Both are working their way back to fitness, but they won’t play in Wednesday’s second leg against Ottawa or Saturday’s MLS home match against Chicago. Vanney hinted they could return for the Aug. 4 road game versus Atlanta United.
Midfielder Victor Vazquez came on as a second-half substitute on Saturday in Chicago, but he is managing a lingering knee issue. His status for this weekend’s game is unknown.
BAKERO IN, HASLER OUT
Prior to Saturday’s contest, TFC traded Lichtenstein midfielder Nicolas Hasler to Chicago for forward Jon Bakero and $50,000 in general allocation money.
Bakero, 21, was selected No. 5 overall in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft by Chicago, but ended up making only four appearances (75 minutes in total) this season. The son of former FC Barcelona star Jose Mari Bakero, Jon played four seasons at Wake Forest where he won the Hermann Trophy, awarded to college soccer’s top player.
Vanney described Bakero as an intelligent, versatile and technically sound player, and someone who can play as second forward and operate in the space behind the main striker.
“He’s another forward with good size who can hold up the ball, but he can also drift off of the front line and create some things, and he’s a good passer in those spaces,” Vanney explained.
Bakero should be available for selection for Wednesday’s game against the Fury.
The influx of allocation money as part of the trade also allows Toronto to make another move during MLS’s summer transfer window.
“Obviously, that’s the goal. We didn’t trade Nico for the sake of trading him,” Vanney stated.
“Part of the move is to clear cap space that we would need to be able to bring somebody else in. … It’s a multi-faceted move, and we’ll see how quickly we’re able to get this done. There are a lot of discussions underway.”
OSORIO, VANNEY REFLECTS ON SHOOTING
Two victims are dead and another 13 are injured following a mass shooting by a lone gunman along Toronto’s busy Danforth Avenue on Sunday night. The shooter, who was later found dead, shot at pedestrians and opened fire on a number of restaurants for several blocks.
TFC defender Ashtone Morgan, who was born in Toronto, tweeted, “We need to be better” and the hashtag #TorontoStrong, while teammate Justin Morrow posted this message:
This mass shooting comes three months after a van attack in the city killed 10 people and injured 16 others. There have also been a number of other shooting deaths in Toronto this month.
“It’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking to see all this stuff happening in the city, especially a city that’s known for its peace and its good people and lack of gun violence,” said Osorio, a native of Toronto.
Vanney and his family have firmly embraced the city during their time here, and as an American he felt Toronto was somehow immune from the gun violence that has plagued so many big cities in the United States.
“That’s always been something I appreciated about Toronto, and Canada in general. … It seems like over the last weeks, you get the sense that maybe or maybe not those antics are starting to find their way into the city,” Vanney offered.
LOOKING AHEAD TO OTTAWA
Toronto hosts Ottawa on Wednesday night at BMO Field in the second leg of their Canadian Club Championship semifinal series. TFC beat the Fury 1-0 in Ottawa in last week’s opener.
The Reds host the Chicago Fire on Saturday in MLS play. When you combine that with the fact some players have logged a lot of minutes in recent weeks due to the team’s injury woes, Vanney will rotate his squad for Wednesday’s contest against the Fury.
“When you put all of those into the blender, we’ll mix it up and come up with a group that we feel can win the series and still have us ready for the weekend,” Vanney stated.
Toronto or Ottawa will meet the winner of the other semifinal between the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Impact earned a 1-0 home win in the first leg.