Toronto FC

Reds to take on Liga MX side Atlas FC as Leagues Cup action continues

The Leagues Cup resumes on Sunday for Toronto FC with the visit of Atlas FC to BMO Field. 

A 5-0 defeat away to NYCFC on Wednesday has Toronto in a difficult position heading into Sunday, sitting bottom of the group standings heading into the final match. Any three-goal win will see them leap over Atlas on goal-difference to secure the second spot and advance into the knockout phase.

“After last game we regrouped, spoke about a lot of things that we need to improve,” said Jonathan Osorio on Saturday. “The biggest thing after a result like that is you have to put it in the past and look forward, improve on the things that we need to improve on, and have a belief that we can go into this game and win.”

“In football, anything can happen. There's still a chance to go through,” he continued. “We have to believe that as a group and go into the game looking to give the fans a performance that they can be proud about.”

“The beautiful thing about football is that there's a game to look forward to,” Osorio added. “The narrative always changes, you always have a chance to change the way people think about you. You can’t dwell.”

Since taking the managerial reins, Terry Dunfield and his coaching staff have opted to play in a 4-4-2, but the coach hinted at some possible changes for Sunday.

“Tomorrow we'll see a little bit of a different structure,” said Dunfield. “Our principles will remain the same, but we need some freshness. That'll be important.”

Part of that is due to the changing personnel at his disposal. 

Matt Hedges and Ayo Akinola have left, to Austin FC and the San Jose Earthquakes, while a red card to Shane O’Neill has him unavailable for the match against Atlas. Franco Ibarra, who missed the midweek match with injury, is questionable as well, while the injury list remains lengthy.

Players out, players in. There have been a lot of moving pieces for TFC in recent weeks, just another wrinkle to be overcome.

New U-22 Initiative signing South African forward Cassius Mailula is not yet available, though TFC are looking forward to him joining the club.

“We're very excited for his arrival,” said Dunfield. “Unfortunately he won't be with us tomorrow. He's going through ITC.”

Wednesday did see Latif Blessing make his first start for the team – he featured off the bench in Chicago just days after arriving from New England.

“He was fantastic overall,” said Dunfield. “He's excited. He's expressed to our staff that he's excited to play higher up the pitch and if that is Latif’s starting point there's a lot more to come.”

“His energy was fantastic,” he continued. “Some of his decision making was great, how he filled spaces around some of his teammates, almost a little bit like Mark Delgado did here.”

Osorio was lined up in the middle of the park with Blessing.

“He’s fitting in well,” said the midfielder. “He was a bright spot in that game and the energy that he gives us is huge. Little by little he’s understanding how we want to play. We're happy to have him here.”

“That energy,” he continued. “That's something that we need. Latif will be very key for us in this game and going forward.”

Just three matches into the Liga MX season, there isn’t a ton of video to analyze on this weekend’s Mexican opponent.

Based in Guadalajara, Atlas currently sit in seventh place on four points with one win, one draw, and one loss.

“The sample size isn’t huge as Liga MX is just getting going, but there's enough there to suggest their team, and from what we saw against NYCFC, is very workman-like,” said Dunfield. “They're strong in every area. They protect their own half well – at times they will drop back into a back-five. They don't give up many high xG shots and going forward they're a little bit direct and play off of their nine.”

That said, every bit of detail that can be thrown into the mix is useful.

“We look at who we are playing, what the threats are and the opportunities, and then we also look at the personnel that's available to find the right structure, so that the chemistry is right amongst our players,” Dunfield explained. “There will be certain play spaces on the field that we are playing for and we'll be wary of some of the threats of Atlas. All that information, those are our ingredients, and then we start to bake a nice cake for Sunday.”

Atlas will be aware going in that a scoreless draw suits them just fine. It will be on Toronto to take the initiative.

“They know where they stand in the group,” levelled Osorio. “It's a very organized team, a very good team, and they're going to make it difficult for us.”

“The important thing is to not chase the game from the beginning. We have to go after the game, but not chase it,” he cautioned. “We do have to be aggressive, but we can't also be naive and get ourselves disorganized trying to chase the three goals. We’ve got to play our way into that and see what happens.”

“We're going to go in with energy and we're going to go looking to get a positive result,” Osorio closed. “And then from there whatever happens happens.”