Here are some news and notes from today’s practice.
SECOND LEG WITH RED BULLS AWAITS
It was a light training session on Wednesday, with TFC still feeling the effects of a physical and bruising affair on Monday at Red Bull Arena in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals, a 2-1 win courtesy of goals from Victor Vazquez and Sebastian Giovinco.
The road victory means TFC holds a distinct advantage going into Sunday’s return match at BMO Field. A draw, or even a 1-0 loss would be enough to see Toronto advance in the aggregate series. The Red Bulls need to win by at least two goals, or post a high-scoring one-goal win (a 5-4 victory, for example) in order to move on to the next round.
TFC coach Greg Vanney said having the advantage of two road goals “doesn’t change a whole lot in the grand scheme of things” in terms of how his team will approach the contest.
He also feels that while the Red Bulls might change formation or their shape, or even make some lineup adjustments, New York won’t stray too far from its tactical framework of pressing teams in their end of the field in order to create turnovers.
“They can approach things in a lot of different ways, but I think their philosophy is their philosophy. I’d be surprised if they came in and, for example, sat back and tried to play us on the counter at this point. I think they’re going to come in and try to still be the team that they’ve been, try to force pressure upon us and create turnovers,” Vanney explained.
INJURY UPDATE: MOOR AND VAZQUEZ
Both defender Drew Moor (rolled ankle) and midfielder Victor Vazquez (hip) were subbed out in the second half of Monday’s game due to injury problems.
Neither Moor nor Vazquez trained on Wednesday, and Vanney revealed that both players are questionable for Sunday’s match. They could play in the second leg, depending on the progress they make in the next few days.
“Both have [improved] since the game, and are feeling better. I think we’re [listing] them as questionable right now. In talking to them today, they definitely have made progress, which is a good sign,” Vanney said.
He later added: “[They’re] questionable for now, understanding that we have a few days. They’ve made progress, so our hope is that they’ll continue to make progress and that that prognosis gets better as we get closer.”
Vanney was amazed that New York midfielder Felipe was not called for a foul on the play that led to Vazquez’s injury.
“There’s a fine line between dirty and being physical and competing. I will leave that for everybody else to decide. I think Felipe knows what he’s doing, he’s stepping in to try to body-block the player. I think it’s the ref’s job to call a foul,” Vanney said.
Nick Hagglund replaced Drew Moor at the start of the second half, and did a commendable job of quarterbacking the defence. Jonathan Osorio came in for Vazquez in the 65th minute, and the Canadian more than held his own.
If Moor or Vazquez can’t play on Sunday, look for Hagglund and Osorio to fill in again as starters.
MLS AWARDS: NODS AND SNUBS FOR TFC
MLS announced the finalists for its year-end awards on Tuesday, and several members of TFC were recognized.
Sebastian Giovinco is up for the MVP award after scoring 16 goals and tallying six assists in 25 appearances this season. The Italian won the honour in 2015, his first year in the league.
This year, he’s going up against New York City FC forward David Villa, Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri, Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic and Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almiron.
Giovinco had a very good year for TFC in 2017, but his inclusion on the list is a bit surprising considering he missed nine games due to injuries. The field of finalists was expanded from three to five candidates this season, which might also explain his inclusion.
The MVP award winner will be announced on Dec. 4. MLS players, coaches, general managers and media vote on the award.
In a bit of a surprise, TFC midfielder Victor Vazquez was not named a finalist for the newcomer of the year award, the honour given to the player with previous pro experience who made his MLS debut this year. The Spanish playmaker was a key figure in TFC’s record-breaking regular season, scoring eight goals and ranking second in the league in assists with 16.
Almiron and Josef Martinez of Atlanta, and Nikolic were nominated for the award.
Vanney didn’t mince words when asked about Vazquez not being named a finalist.
“I think it’s crazy. That’s my reaction. I don’t really know what else to say. It is what it is. For me, he’s been one of the best players in the league this year, and to not be at least in some discussion is amiss,” Vanney offered.
TFC’s Justin Morrow is up for the defender of the year honour, alongside Kendall Waston of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Sporting Kansas City’s Ike Opara.
Vanney was nominated for coach of the year, as were Atlanta’s Gerardo Martino and Chicago’s Veljko Paunovic.
“For me, it’s a nomination for how well the team did, as much as anything. We were the best team in the regular season, we did a lot of great things, and the coach who is involved in that should get some attention. It’s a tribute to the players and what they’ve been able to do over the course of the year,” Vanney said.
“I appreciate it. But at the end of the day, it’s about the players. If coaches get nominated, it’s because players do a great job of doing their job.”
He later added: “The most important award for us is the trophies we’ve been able to win over the year, because that shows real team standards and team achievement, and that’s what this group is focused on now.”
HOW ABOUT THE COLUMBUS CREW?
The other Eastern Conference semifinal kicked off on Tuesday with the Columbus Crew earning a 4-1 home win over New York City FC, who were reduced to 10 men in the 52nd minute.
NYCFC is the second seed in the East, so the heavy loss was somewhat surprising. On the other hand, Columbus had momentum after upsetting Atlanta United FC in the knockout round of the playoffs. The Crew also entered the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in MLS, going unbeaten in their final 10 matches of the regular season (six wins and four draws).
Vanney watched the game and said he wasn’t surprised to see so many goals, as both teams like to play an open style of soccer. He expects more of the same in Sunday’s second leg.
“It makes for an interesting return game in New York on what is a very small field [at Yankee Stadium] where anything can happen,” Vanney said.
NYCFC or Columbus could meet Toronto in the Eastern Conference final. TFC would have home-field advantage for that series should they get past the Red Bulls.