TFC notebook: Reds look to avoid international hangover

John Molinaro discusses the dominant season for Toronto FC, saying regardless of how it ends, 2016-17 will always be regarded as a successful season, but anything less than a championship would be disappointing.

Toronto FC was back in training on Tuesday ahead of its home game against the San Jose Earthquakes this weekend.

Here are some news and notes from today’s practice.

AVOIDING AN INTERNATIONAL HANGOVER

Toronto had a bye last week due to the international match calendar, which comes to an end following today’s World Cup qualifiers and friendlies. Some TFC players have already returned to camp, while others are still away with their national teams.

American forward Jozy Altidore is suspended for tonight’s qualifying game in Honduras, so he came home early – he played in the United States’ loss to Costa Rica last Friday – and he trained with TFC on Tuesday. Canadians Jonathan Osorio, Raheem Edwards, Jay Chapman and Tosaint Ricketts are back with the Reds after playing in Canada’s 2-0 win over Jamaica at BMO Field on the weekend. Captain Michael Bradley (U.S.), midfielder Nicolas Hasler (Lichtenstein) and winger Armando Cooper (Panama) remain away on international duty. They are expected to return in plenty of time for Saturday’s match versus San Jose.

Unbeaten in nine matches (with six wins), Toronto is looking to inch closer to wrapping up first place in MLS, and with it the Supporters’ Shield trophy and home-field advantage all the way through the playoffs.

There’s no question that the Reds are flying high at the moment, but is there a risk of players suffering from an international hangover when they return to their pro clubs? Toronto coach Greg Vanney, who earned 37 caps for the U.S. during his playing career, believes so, and he’ll do what he can help his players stave it off ahead of Saturday’s contest.

“You don’t necessarily get it all the time. You don’t necessarily get it from the same players, but it’s something’s that there. I went through it as a player, and I see guys occasionally go through it. It happens,” Vanney said.

“Whenever you go off to different places and play with different teams, you have different sets of responsibilities and circumstances. A lot of guys here have had a few days of rest, while the [players returning from international duty] haven’t had any rest, and on top of that there’s a lot of travel.

“Results matter, too. It’s easy to come back when you’ve had a positive experience with the national team. When you come back, you seamlessly work your way in. But if you’re [coming off] a disappointment, that can be a challenge.”

Vanney also explained that the transition for the returning players is made easier by the fact that the MLS season is so far along.

“At this point in the year, there’s not a whole lot of new tactical nuance [that they have to learn]. So, we just allow them to physically and mentally recover, and being cognizant of that,” Vanney stated.

OSORIO, EDWARDS SHINE FOR CANADA

Osorio looked very sharp and scored a goal, while Edwards earned a rare start in Canada’s 2-0 win over Jamaica.

Vanney was in attendance at BMO Field for Saturday’s international friendly, and he was impressed with what he saw from his players.

“[Osorio] did a nice job of helping the team move the ball to orchestrate different numerical advantages in the middle of the field,” Vanney offered. “I thought he did a great job in possession, and at the right times he got himself into dangerous spots.”

Edwards has fallen down the depth chart at TFC in recent months, and Vanney is hopeful that the young Canadian will benefit from his 70-minute appearance against Jamaica.

“It was good for Raheem to get an extensive look with the national team. … Good for him because with us he hasn’t [been getting] extensive minutes in the last stretch of games, and we need to get him going, so it was good for him to get going [for Canada],” Vanney offered.

 
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INJURY UPDATES

Vanney confirmed that defender Nick Hagglund and midfielder Benoit Cheyrou are both on the mend and making good progress from long-term injuries, although there is no timeline as to when they could return to action.

Cheyrou suffered a calf tear during a 1-1 draw at home against the Colorado Rapids on July 22 and was originally ruled out for at least eight weeks. Hagglund was ruled out for six to eight weeks with a left knee sprain he suffered in a game versus the Portland Timbers on Aug. 12.

“Nick and Ben are starting to turn the corner to get back on the field. Ben will start running this week, and then it’ll just be a progression of getting him back into playing. Hopefully Nick isn’t too far behind,” Vanney said.

Backup goalkeeper Clint Irwin is dealing with a minor finger issue, but he is expected to be available for Saturday.

LOOKING AHEAD TO SAN JOSE

Saturday’s match at BMO Field is the only meeting of the season between Toronto and San Jose.

Their previous meeting came last July when TFC lost 2-1 in San Jose, even though the Earthquakes finished the game with nine men.

While Toronto (16-3-8, 56 points) is riding high in first place in MLS, San Jose (10-11-6, 36 points) sits seventh in the Western Conference, one point and spot out of a playoff berth. The Earthquakes are coming off a 3-0 road win over Los Angeles after going winless in three matches.

Vanney believes San Jose is still trying to find itself since Chris Leitch took over as coach from Dominic Kinnear. As always, though, Chris Wondolowski remains a dangerous scoring threat for the ‘Quakes.

“They’ve gone through a coaching change, and gone from a systematic shift – more times than not they’re playing three or five in the back,” Vanney said.

“Wondolowski is always a guy you have to keep an eye on, he’s very clever about how he moves around the field. … With Chris, they have an interesting look about them and we have to be prepared.”

TFC Pitchside will provide Toronto FC supporters with an inside look into their favourite obsession Monday nights at 11 pm ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. Call it an all-access pass for all things MLS brought to you by co-hosts Dan Riccio, Thomas Michalakos and producer Amil Delic. You'll hear from the biggest names around the club, and the MLS. You'll also get reviews and previews of every TFC game with reports from Pitchside at training and on game days at BMO Field. The Six is about to get done!

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