Toronto FC

Reds introduce Longstaff as prep continues for weekend clash vs. Revolution


Game one in the books, Toronto FC are back in action this weekend. 

Opening day saw the Reds pick up a hard-earned road point away to defending MLS Supporters’ Shield champions FC Cincinnati following a scoreless draw at TQL Stadium. Another difficult road fixture awaits, but the club heads in buoyed by that result and with another addition in tow.

Another week, another move for TFC.

On Thursday the club announced the signing of 23-year-old English midfielder Matty Longstaff, formerly of Newcastle United. One of the ‘unnamed trialists’ from preseason, being able to recruit from his old stomping grounds brought something extra to John Herdman’s smile on Friday. 

“It's the first Geordie signing of my career, the first time I’ve had a chance to work with a Geordie – they’re a special bunch from up in the Northeast,” began the TFC coach. “I’ve followed his career as a Newcastle fan. I remember the first goal he scored and I'll never forget the interview with him and his brother [Sean, also with Newcastle], they were both buzzing after the game. He's a quality player that has had a little bit of bad luck with injuries early on in his career.”

“I was back in Newcastle before Christmas, had a good chat with Dan Ashworth [former Newcastle Sporting Director] about Matty,” continued Herdman.

“He felt he was in a great place and could maybe kick his career on again. Excited to work with him.”

Longstaff met up with the side during their time in California and featured in the final preseason match against LAFC.

“It's went really well. I got to meet with the group about two weeks ago,” said Longstaff. “I’ve loved every minute of it so far, getting to work with the gaffer here has been brilliant. I’ve really enjoyed it so far.”

Herdman did not expect the midfielder to slot straight into the XI away to New England. The home opener at BMO Field next Saturday against Charlotte FC is a more likely option for his debut.

“He's almost there. He played 30 minutes against LAFC, a really good 30 minutes once he got into his rhythm,” outlined the gaffer. “That was his trial with us, we had him for 10-12 days through Santa Barbara.”

“He's a class act,” Herdman continued. “I keep saying this, it’s about bringing the right people into the club. They've got to have a real solid personality and the right type of team mentality – he's got that – but what he showed on the pitch is that next level touch, his passing ability.”

“In terms of his readiness, the turf this weekend's a challenge for him coming off an ACL and he's only on his second potential game, so for us it’s not really worth the risk,” he added. “He might travel with the team, he might be on the bench, but I'm looking more next week for the home opener and beyond, putting him in the right conditions to minimize any risk.”

Coming off a knee injury, Longstaff is eager to get involved.

“I’ve been out for a little bit, but I’m in good shape now,” he said. “I imagine I’ll need building up a little bit, but I feel like I'm ready to play in games now. Whenever I'm needed, I'll be ready.”

TFC may not be done with the moves yet. The MLS Primary Transfer Window remains open until April 23. 

“Anything's possible,” suggested Herdman.

“We're working with the front office to see what is possible, what's available. Conversations with players will happen as they start to see how the cards are falling. Are they core? Are they sub-core? Are they extended squad players?”

“I'm still learning about the lads,” he continued. “One lad who didn't shore too well in preseason, the last three weeks has really took an uplift. People are settling into the squad, feeling more comfortable, but also understanding the tactical demands. So right up until the transfer window we’ll be busy. We're looking for opportunity, but everything's reliant on what you move out of the club to be able to get things in.”

One of the question marks on the schedule was cleared up last Friday with the draw for the Preliminary Round of the 2024 Canadian Championship. The date for the match has not yet been set, but TFC will face League1 Ontario champions Simcoe County Rovers FC between April 23 and May 1.

Based in Barrie, Ontario, the Rovers, founded in 2021, have made a splash in their two seasons, both on and off the field – reaching the semifinals of L1O in their debut year, lifting the title the following year and assembling an ownership group studded with current and former Canadian soccer stars.

“As long as Cyle Larin, Doneil Henry, and all those guys don't come back and kit up for them,” joked Herdman of the draw. “Julian de Guzman, Atiba [Hutchinson] as well, Janine Beckie.”

“I'm really proud of what they did,” he continued. “I remember speaking to Doneil about investing in the club, it was a big moment to see these veteran players giving back.”

“Cup games are tough. You never know with cup games,” Herdman cautioned. “If you don't get the mentality right the cup upset is always there. We know we’re the giant going into it, but there's a fairy tale story to be told.”

“We've got to take it serious,” he closed.

“That's the mentality coming in: we've got to take this game serious.”

Voyageurs Cup glory is a ways down the road. For now, TFC are focused on this weekend’s match at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts against the New England Revolution.

New England lost their season opener last Saturday, falling 3-1 to D.C. United after a pair of early bookings to Giacomo Vrioni saw them reduced to 10 men – the striker will be suspended on Sunday. 

Carles Gil scored a screamer for the Revs, but a hat-trick from Christian Benteke was too much to overcome.

Caleb Porter’s charges were back in action midweek, defeating Panamanian side CAI (Club Atlético Independiente de La Chorrea) 3-0 in the second leg of their First Round Concacaf Champions Cup series. The Revs advanced to the Round of 16 4-0 on aggregate.

New England won both meetings last season, 2-0 in Toronto and 2-1 at home, but Toronto has taken results from four of their last five visits to Gillette Stadium.

With a new coach in place, preparing for the Revolution was a different prospect for Herdman and company.

“It's chalk and cheese with Cincinnati,” he said. “Cincinnati we did a whole year deep dive, 30-odd games, xG analysis, we were right into the weeds, but obviously Caleb's new to the team. He has a very distinct style, but what I've seen is a bit of an evolution as well in them first matches.”

“What I expect is a team that will attack out of quite a narrow shape, they rely on their two central midfielders to drive the rhythm of their game, whether they drop into a back three or create that tactical flexibility to keep you guessing with your pressing,” Herdman continued. “They're very good at creating a plus-one with those midfielders. I was really impressed with [Matt] Polster and the young lad that played yesterday, [Esmir Bajraktarevic]. They really caused some problems with that midfielder joining, so we have to be aware of that.”

“But ultimately it's how they attack centrally with [Carles] Gil and his brother, [Nacho], the two Gil brothers, that's the biggest threat. When them two start combining like they did for the goal last night you've got problems,” he highlighted. “So for us it's trying to force them outside and deny those central two rhythm. That's a big part of what they want and what we have to take away.”

“And it's an away game in a tough stadium,” Herdman closed. “As I've said to the lads, points on the road are wins for us.”