Toronto FC

Reds gear up for Derby Clash at BC Place: "This one's a big game”


This weekend is a homecoming of sorts for John Herdman.

As Toronto FC prepares for an all-Canadian clash against Vancouver Whitecaps FC at BC Place on Saturday evening their coach has been enjoying some of the comforts of returning to the city his family calls home.

“I had my little dog Charlie in training today. She was on work experience, she's been around the lads all morning. It's been nice,” said Herdman on Friday afternoon. “I had my daughter in training....Yeah, it's just been good to be home.”

One wrinkle is that his son, Jay, is on the books at the Whitecaps.

“No, he's not [speaking to me]; he's gone on blackout,” joked the TFC coach. “I saw him last night, but we were just winding each other up. I was telling him that I was playing with a different formation and with different players up front. We’ve had a bit of banter.” 

Vancouver was the main base of operation for the former Men’s and Women’s Canadian National Team coach and BC Place was the site of many a memorable night.

“I’ve had some great memories there,” recalled Herdman. “But just being back home; it's special.”

“It's a special moment,” he continued. “Your shoulders drop a little bit. Just seeing the family at training today, having your dog around; it's been nice. It's something I've needed to be honest, if I'm being selfish.”

“And even Vancouver,” Herdman added. “It's such a beautiful city, just being back in this environment was upbeat and fresh. I’ve been able to share stories with the lads who have never seen it before. Matty Longstaff, Nicksoen Gomis, Kevin Long, they've never seen this city, so I’ve got a few stories to tell them and pointing to places they can visit. It's nice to be that sort of tour guide as well.”

There is always time for sentiment and sightseeing, but this is a business trip for TFC in the end. The side was not happy with losing 3-1 to Sporting KC at BMO Field last weekend.

“That wasn't good enough,” said Kevin Long, echoing the words shared post-match.

“We’ve prided ourselves on the clean-sheets this season, not conceding too many chances and not conceding that many goals.”

“In that game we conceded too many chances and ultimately we paid the price for it,” he continued. “After the game we reminded ourselves that that's not good enough. If you want to be challenging this year we need to be keeping clean-sheets and we can't be giving away that many chances. We created a lot of chances as well, but we lost the game.”

“We want to make that right,” Long underlined. “We know we need to be better defensively and in the attack we know we need to take our chances when they come.”

Herdman has seen that response in training.

“They were wounded – there’s no doubt – coming out of that game,” he said. “Everyone felt there was a missed opportunity there.”

“With a home win against KC, Toronto would have sat top of the league. We'd said prior to going in [that] three points at home would give us a big opportunity to tell people what we were about this season and we missed that opportunity,” Herdman continued. “That's super disappointing, but at the same time other teams around the league also missed their opportunities, so it's kept us in the fight.”

“The response has been good in training. There's been a real intent and focus, particularly from a couple of players that didn't start that match,” he added.

“We’ve been in Vancouver a day now and they look ready.”

News from Florida on Friday provided some extra lift as well.

The Toronto FC Academy U15s squared off against the Arsenal Academy in a Generation Adidas Cup quarterfinal clash and advanced to the semifinals in a shootout following a 2-2 draw.

“I can just imagine the feeling those kids and the parents and the coaches have had in that moment. It would be like winning the FA Cup,” said Herdman. “That's a huge statement win for Toronto FC, but also for North America.”

“I've been following the GA cup for a couple of years, obviously I’ve had a kid that's been in and around it, and what I've noticed is the North American teams do well, they do very well,” he continued. “The MLS teams are right there, right on the cusp at the youth level. It's showcasing our talent and I’m really proud of what that group of lads and the staff were able to put together. It’s a little bit of motivation for the first team coming into our match now.”

The other Canadian derby has always been overshadowed by the rivalry in the East, but clashes between TFC and the Whitecaps have had their share of drama. Add in that Vancouver are unbeaten in four MLS matches against Toronto, and have won the last two Canadian Championships, even lifting the 2022 edition of the Voyageurs Cup over the Reds via a shootout, only raises the stakes higher. 

“This one's a big game,” said Herdman. “Oso [Jonathan Osorio] keeps reminding us it's a derby match. I'm excited for this one.”

Since getting bounced from the Concacaf Champions Cup by Mexican side Tigres UANL, the Whitecaps are off to a strong start in league play. 

Unbeaten in their first three, Vanni Sartini’s side lost their first match of the season to Real Salt Lake two weeks ago, falling 2-1 at home, but responded last weekend with a 3-2 win over the Portland Timbers at BC Place, finding the late winner after taking a two-goal lead only to be clawed back level.

“Similar to us, they’ve had a good start,” said Herdman. “They’re a really well organized team. Vanni Sartini has done a terrific job with the group. I'm a bit envious because they've had that two/two-and-a-half years together so they understand each other.”

“There hasn't been a massive amount of squad rotation there with Brian White and Ryan Gauld and [Andrés] Cubas; that ever-present back-three of [Tristan] Blackmon, Ranko [Veselinović] and [Mathías] Laborda, they’ve really been able to get some good consistency down their spine, the goalkeeper, [Yohei Takaoka], is solid,” he listed. “Axel Schuster did a wonderful job bringing this team together.”

“I got to know a little bit about Axel and obviously Vanni living here in Vancouver, I followed the Whitecaps closely,” Herdman continued. “Axel has found a formula on how he's built the roster in Vancouver and Vanni with his charisma, his optimistic view on the game, but also his tactical prowess.”

“It's a structure that is hard to play against and he has a front three there that seem to be able to score different types of goals, whether the two goals against Portland last week, great team goals, or then the next week they'll score a set-piece or a transition goal. Nothing but respect for this Whitecaps team,” he added. “This is a real team that's been well constructed.”

Fafà Picault and Ryan Raposo lead the side with two goals apiece, while Picault and White each have a pair of helpers. Toronto will be wary of those Vancouver threats.

“They're also a good team,” levelled Long. “But it's down to our game plan and what we produce on the day.”

“The majority of the games we play we want to focus on ourselves first and foremost and what we can do right,” he continued. “If we put in a performance that I know we're capable of, get ourselves right, offensively and defensively, a good strong performance, we’re capable of beating any team in the league.”

“The main focus is on us,” Long added. “Obviously, we need to worry about them, that's why we work on stuff tactically throughout the week – I don't really want to give any of that away – but ultimately it's on us and what we can do right.”