Toronto FC was back in training on Thursday ahead of its opening game of the MLS playoffs next week.
Here are some news and notes from today’s practice.
SHOWDOWN WITH RED BULLS AWAIT
We now know who TFC will face in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The New York Red Bulls earned a 4-0 road win over the Chicago Fire in the knockout round on Wednesday night, which means they will face TFC next week.
MLS will confirm Thursday night the date of the first leg that will be played at Red Bull Arena, whether it’ll be held on Oct. 30 or 31. The return leg is scheduled for Nov. 5 at BMO Field.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney believes New York and its pressing style of play poses a stiff challenge for his cub.
“It’s two good teams. Both teams are going to go after it. It’s not in [New York’s] nature to sit back and wait, so they will look to press, look to create problems for us, and create turnovers that they can use. For us, sometimes it’s good to have teams come out and press because spaces open up,” Vanney said.
Table-topping Toronto finished 19 points above sixth-place New York in the Eastern Conference standings, and also took the regular-season series. The teams battled to a 1-1 draw on May 19 in New Jersey, and Toronto earned a 4-2 home win on Sept. 30. The victory at BMO Field allowed TFC to officially clinch the Supporters’ Shield, the trophy given to the side that finishes the regular season in first place.
“Anything we’ve accomplished against them in the past is meaningless at this point. This is a whole new season we start from scratch,” Vanney warned.
Left fullback Justin Morrow scored a hat trick in last month’s 4-2 win
“That game ended well for me. But I expect it’ll be much different this time around,” Morrow said.
BEAT THE PRESS
New York likes to play with a high press, attempting to apply pressure and force teams to turn over the ball in their end of the field, and then score in transition.
What’s the key to beating a pressing side like the Red Bulls?
“You can’t make mistakes and give things away, or give them opportunities because they are quick to capitalize. They’re a team that in transition where two or three passes can be in on your goal. It’s important that we are diligent and smart with our choices, good with our passes, take care of the ball,” Vanney explained.
He later added that it’ll be up to TFC to play through the pressure, and try to take advantage of the space that New York leaves behind itself, and make the most of its scoring chances.
“If people are moving forward than the [open] space is going to be behind them. They move very well as a group, so they don’t leave a lot of gaps or spaces that are easy to exploit,” Vanney offered.
TFC defender Drew Moor feels TFC will have their hands full with New York’s pressing game.
“They’re a team that will look to force the ball into the middle, and to intercept or steal, and to come right back at us in transition. We have to be very good with the ball,” Moor said.
BEZ GETS HIS WISH: TFC AVOID ATLANTA
Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko was a guest on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown earlier this week, and admitted he preferred TFC not to meet Atlanta United in the Eastern Conference semifinals because they play on turf at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“I guess I’d like to avoid Atlanta in the [next] round just so we can play on grass,” Bezbatchenko said.
“Atlanta’s turf was a little bit better than Vancouver’s or, certainly, Montreal’s – the old turf. We would prefer to play on grass. The ball moves faster. It’s more of a natural bounce. I think our guys feel like they can loosen up on the grass.”
What does Vanney think?
“It’s a fast turf. … They’re a team that likes the game to be fast, especially in a vertical way. They have a lot of speed, so the turf can play pretty quick there,” Vanney said.
Vanney said that there are no injury concerns ahead of next week’s first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals, and that every player will be available for selection.
“We’re good. Everybody’s available, everybody’s training, everyone’s good. That’s always positive. I’ll take that,” Vanney said with a broad smile.
VANCOUVER ADVANCES OUT WEST
The Vancouver Whitecaps’ 5-0 trashing of the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday night in the knockout round of the playoffs did not escape the attention of Vanney.
TFC’s coach was especially impressed with the Whitecaps’ set-piece prowess against San Jose, led by towering defender Kendall Waston.
“I thought it was professional performance [by Vancouver]. In the run of play there wasn’t a whole lot in the first half for either team. But they’re extremely dangerous on set pieces. Kendall Waston is probably the most dangerous guy in the league in terms of getting on the end of [set pieces],” Vanney said.
BIELLO GETS THE AXE IN MONTREAL
One of Vanney’s managerial cohorts lost his job this week when the Montreal Impact fired coach Mauro Biello on Monday. The decision came after the Impact closed out the season by finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference following a 3-2 home loss to the New England Revolution on Sunday.
Biello has been with the club either as a player or coach since its inception in 1993. He took over coaching duties from Frank Klopas as on Aug. 30, 2015, and helped the Impact reach the Eastern Conference semifinals that year. The following season, Montreal made it to the Eastern Conference finals, losing to TFC in an epic playoff series.
This year, though, Montreal struggled, posting a 12-17-6 record and a meagre 39 points.
Vanney didn’t know Biello very well, but he has a great deal of respect for the Canadian coach.
“I feel for him as a fellow coach. I know he’s put his heart and soul into that club. He’s been there for a long time, so I feel for him and his family, and I wish him well,” Vanney said.
Biello was the team’s fourth coach in six MLS seasons.