Toronto FC will look to continue their unbeaten run on Saturday when they hop across the Great Lakes for a match against Chicago Fire FC.
Unbeaten in three matches, TFC followed up their 3-2 win away to New England before the Gold Cup began with a pair of 1-1 draws at BMO Field against Orlando City SC and the New York Red Bulls.
Chicago enter the match in equally good spirits, losing just once in their last four outings. Having started the season with just one win through ten games, Raphael Wicky’s side appear to have turned a corner with a 3-0 over Atlanta United on July 3.
They followed that up with a 3-1 win over Orlando, also at home, before losing 5-1 away to Nashville SC last weekend. A midweek draw back home against D.C. United midweek saw Chicago squander a two-goal lead before sharing the spoils.
“We know that [against] Chicago we are going to find a team that like to play,” observed Javier Perez during Friday’s pre-match conference call. “It’s going to be different to this last game against Red Bulls.”
“It’s going to be an aggressive team, they play 3-4-3, they like to press high, and then when they sit back, they play kind of in a 5-2-3. It's going to be a difficult game,” he continued. “It’s away from home, it's a team that needs points. They're in the same situation, like us. It's going to be a close game like the last two and every game that we're going to play going forward.”
The Fire sit directly above TFC in the Eastern Conference standings.
“They're home, so they're definitely going to want to come out and be on top of us,” forecast Mark Delgado. “We're right behind them, but they're another team who is fighting to get into the playoffs, so it's going to be a tough game.”
“Not as scrappy as the Red Bull game, but it's going to be tough,” he continued. “We’ve got to win individual duels, be mentally focused the whole 90-plus. We’ve got to be ready. This is definitely a big game.”
Playing a third game in seven days, there is precious little time between stepping on the field. Treatment, rest, prepare, repeat.
“When you have 72 hours, it's not ideal, but it's enough time to get the team ready for the next game,” explained Perez. “If it's less than that, it’s already a challenge.”
“The way to prepare is simple,” he elaborated. “We want to provide as many resources as possible to the players to get rest, to get treatment. We prepared a little bit on the field – yesterday, we had half of the group outside, this morning we were outside for 45 minutes, worked a little bit on how we want to play.”
While the pace of the action ahead varies a little, this next month of the season, stretching until the September international break, will see Toronto take to the field eight more times.
Following Chicago, Toronto will have a week to prepare for a match at home against Nashville, but then travel to Philadelphia and return home to play NYCFC in short order. Another week lies before a home meeting with New England, but then short turnarounds fall between away dates at Atlanta and Miami. The month then closes with a derby at CF Montreal.
24 points are up for grabs.
Due to the back-loaded nature of the schedule, Toronto will still have twelve games scheduled for September, October, and November, but every single outing is a chance to claw up the table.
The side is undaunted by the hectic pace.
“We’re in a great state right now,” said Delgado. “Mentally, we're all hungry to get results, to perform, to continue getting better individually and as a team. Physically, Javi and our staff have been great at taking care of us, not pushing us too much, limiting our loads, making sure we're ready for what's most important, which is the next game.”
The biggest game is the next one on the schedule.
“Every game has that much importance given the situation we're in right now,” levelled the midfielder, who made his 200th MLS regular season appearance midweek. “We want three points every game – that's the ultimate goal.”
“Sometimes things don't go your way and you’ve got to take the point, take the positives, and go forward; get ready for the next game and try to get three points,” Delgado continued. “That's what we want. That's what we need to get back into the playoffs.”
“I have a good feeling, just like everyone else does, that we're on the right path, we're going forward,” he added. “We're taking all the positives – there are a lot of positives – and the three points, having a good streak, it's going to come along soon.”
90 minutes at a time.
“Every game from now to the end of the regular season is a must-win game – that’s the approach we have to every game we play,” said Perez. “It's not a cliche, it's not something that you just say, we really mean it.”
“We need to go with the mentality to win every game,” he continued. “We cannot just look into how many points we need or who is up, who is down, we need to approach every game 100%, thinking that we need the three points and we fight for the three points.”