17 days since their last taste of action, a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union at BMO Field on August 30, Toronto FC are finally back in action this weekend.
TFC will face Vancouver Whitecaps FC in Toronto on Saturday. A long awaited chance to follow up that result with another performance.
One of the usual joys of the soccer calendar is its regularity: a game every weekend with the occasional midweek fixture thrown in. The past few months have been anything but regular in that regard for Toronto.
“The way the schedule has played out is there's been a fury of games and then a bit of a breather,” reflected Terry Dunfield on Friday of his time as the interim manager. “The first four games came really quickly. We were pretty pragmatic, organized the team as best we could.”
“From there we almost went into a mini bootcamp, a tactical, physical, cultural, bootcamp once the Leagues Cup had finished,” he continued. “What's been cool is we're eight weeks in now and we've seen some nice growth throughout that period.”
Defender Sigurd Rosted called it ‘a weird summer’.
“A lot of breaks,” he elaborated. “We had a break in June, then a little break before the Leagues Cup, and then when we went out a long break there, and now a break again,” he listed. “We've really pushed hard and trained hard. Some days off, of course, but when we trained, we trained really hard, so it has been like a mini preseason.”
TFC saw the fruits of that effort in the win over Philadelphia. It was an impressive result.
The Union came into that match in second spot in the Eastern Conference, on a three-game winning streak in MLS, and would go on to hand the New York Red Bulls a 4-1 defeat days later.
“The feeling internally throughout has been ‘we're making progress,’” relayed Dunfield. “Philly was a great benchmark, a nice positive sign that we're moving in the right direction and our hard work on the training ground is beginning to pay dividends.”
“After the game, the feeling was there could have been more and we could have played better,” he continued. “Our next opponent being Vancouver is perfect. They're in the 99th percentile for aggressive actions. They don't stop, they just keep coming, and that teed up that training has got to be above a certain level and there's been a real intensity to our work for the last two-and-a-half weeks.”
Matching and surpassing the opponent’s energy level was critical to success.
“We really came out and burst over them with energy,” said Rosted. “That's the main thing you have to do against Philly and we did that well.”
The mood in the team since has been ‘very good,’ according to the centre-back.
“We're enjoying that win because that was a very good win,” Rosted added. “Hopefully, we can keep going.”
On paper seasons begin and end in clear, sequential patterns. In reality they tend to blend together in subtler ways.
Awaiting the imminent arrival of new head coach John Herdman at the start of October and with seven games left in the MLS regular season this is a moment of transition for TFC.
The work of today will pay off in time.
“When we first took over, everyone kept saying, ‘It's impossible. You can't do it, it won't work.’ And every day we just kept coming in, getting better each day, sharing with the players that you can do it, believe, and it is going to come together,” reflected Dunfield of the last few months. “There's still more to come, but against Philly you started to see that there's so much quality in [the locker room].”
“Our role as coaches was to bring out some of that potential,” he continued. “Against Philly it was great to see it come together. There were six or seven personal bests in that game and that third goal was a 15-pass move.”
All capped off by a Kobe Franklin ball for a diving Jonathan Osorio.
Judging by the hint of crispness in the air, fall has finally come around, but there was a sense of spring around the BMO Training Ground.
On a busy day with the first team bracing for action, Dunfield still found a moment for well wishes to send off some TFC Academy teams who begin their seasons soon.
“I was out on the pitch just now, on North Pitch, wishing our 15s and 17s all the best,” he said. “They're off to Montreal to kick off their season shortly.”
“MLS NEXT is just such a great pathway,” added the former academy coach. “I was very fortunate to be a part of it and it's cool to see the young guys so excited.”
And the TFC family got a little larger recently, as Sigurd and Victoria welcomed baby Freja to the fold.
“We're very happy, three weeks old today,” said Rosted, beaming. “It's a new phase in my life and my girlfriend's life, of course. We're coping so far, trying to get sleep when we can.”
“It's a completely new. We love it,” he added. “In the beginning it's going to be less sleep, but we're enjoying every second of it.”
Another potential future Canadian international in the mix.
“I hope,” replied Rosted. “Yes.”
TFC will be looking to carry those good vibes into Saturday’s match against the Whitecaps.
Though matches between these two Canadian clubs have often been forced to take a back seat to Toronto-Montreal games and Vancouver’s against the American sides in the Pacific Northwest there has been a growing competition in recent years.
Vancouver has won the last two Canadian Championships, pipping TFC to the coveted Concacaf Champions League spot. Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini celebrated the 2022 final victory over TFC with a shirt off celebration that raised some hackles.
The Whitecaps swooped in to land Richie Laryea when his loan from Nottingham Forest expired and snagged a page from TFC President Bill Manning’s plan to stock the team with Canadian internationals ahead of the 2026 FIFA World Cup in North America by adding Sam Adekugbe and Junior Hoilett, as well as Laryea, in recent weeks.
Dunfield, who returned from Europe to play for the Whitecaps in 2010 before getting traded to TFC, has been on both sides of this divide.
“You want to be the best in Canada,” he levelled. “When I was in Vancouver, you're fighting for that, and the same here.”
“Since I played, the rivalry has grown. There's something there,” continued Dunfield. “[Sartini] has built a nice team, a nice core, and added some really nice pieces to their squad. It’ll be a fantastic game. [Ryan] Gauld and [Brian] White are a handful up top. It's a class rivalry.”
The Whitecaps enter the weekend in sixth place in the Western Conference, in possession of a playoff spot, and are unbeaten in three, winning away to the Portland Timbers and Chicago Fire before drawing 1-1 at NYCFC in their last outing.
Gauld and White are tied for the team lead in goals with 10 apiece, while the Scottish attacking midfielder’s eight assists have him marked as a constant threat.
“The analytics suggest they’re a team that are very good in transition, they're a touch direct,” anticipated Dunfield. “They're very active, they don't stop, and they've found a system – they’ll adjust a little bit – that really brings the best out of their group, but we feel like there's some areas that we can get at them as well.”
There are similarities to the last game in Toronto’s mind.
“A lot like the Philly game,” suggested Rosted. “If we can match the energy of Vancouver, which is very high, I feel like then we can beat every team. We’re going to start with that.”
Saturday may also see the return of Laryea to BMO Field, where he terrorized opponents for the best part of five seasons.
“In 2019 Richie walked into this facility as a trialist, a winger from Orlando,” began Dunfield. “It's been really cool to see him work on his game every day, learn a new position. His trajectory has been incredible.”
“It was too bad it didn't work out for him at Forest, but I'm really happy with our right side: Fede [Federico Bernardeschi] is on fire right now and Kobe Franklin just keeps getting better and better, starting to really push the limits of his game,” he added. “In 2026 Kobe is going to be pushing Richie pretty hard for that right-back spot.”
Added Rosted, with a hearty laugh, asked if he had any well wishes for his former teammate this weekend: “I wish him nothing.”
“It will be great [to see him],” he continued. “Such a good guy and amazing player, he did so well when we were doing bad, which is the hardest thing you can do in football. He’s a super guy and a super footballer, he's going to be hard to stop.”