Somewhat lost in the driving rain and progressing to the next round of the Canadian Championship with a 4-0 win over York United FC on Wednesday night at BMO Field was that Toronto FC kept a clean-sheet.
Long sought, their last one was back on May 12, a 2-0 win over the Columbus Crew.
“It's been a long time since we had one, so we'll take it any way we can get it.” quipped Alex Bono during Thursday’s prematch Zoom call, asked if he deserved one for enduring that soaking for 90 minutes.
It had been coming.
“In the last few games we've been playing very well,” observed Javier Perez. “A clean-sheet means that we’ve been defending well, that the defensive line is not being so exposed. That’s a collective effort, not only the back-line or the goalkeeper, it's an effort for the whole team. I'm glad to see these performances.”
“We were very close as well in the last game in the league and the game before, even with 10 players, pretty much 90 minutes with a clean-sheet,” he continued. “And [against York] finally we got that result. It’s good, it gives confidence to the team, the trust that we needed.”
After a long season rife with setbacks, confidence has been hard to come by.
“More so than anything it's building, which is a positive note for us,” said Bono. “We haven't had much to build off of for quite some time.”
“The hope is that we take pride in these results the last couple of games and before that with the performance we put in the Miami game, the heart that we showed that game,” he added. “We can't control anything that's already happened, but we can control what happens for the rest of it.”
Toronto returns to league action this weekend with an away trip to face the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, the first of three league matches in eight days leading into the October international break.
TFC host FC Cincinnati and the Chicago Fire next week, on Wednesday and Sunday, respectively. The added wrinkle of the next round of the Canadian Championship, which has been pencilled in for September 28 or 29, has yet to be ironed out.
Colorado, led by former TFC assistant coach Robin Fraser, enter Saturday’s match as one of the top three teams in the Western Conference, battling for the top spot with Sporting KC and the Seattle Sounders.
“They're a good team,” said Bono. “I've watched a few of their games, I know a bunch of guys in that team, and they're a hungry team right now, they're dangerous.”
“We're expecting a high-flying affair, especially there in Colorado,” he continued. “The altitude plays a factor and in Colorado – it could be 25° and sunny today and it could be -10° and snowing tomorrow, you never know what you're going to get up in the mountains.”
“It's one of those games you prepare as best as you can, take a look at the film and individual guys, their style of play – we know Robin well – all that mixed together. We're expecting a top team in this league,” Bono added. “We're going to walk into their house and try and put a good performance in.”
The Rapids are unbeaten in ten matches, coming off a 1-1 home draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps last Sunday.
They have drawn their last three matches – at home to the LA Galaxy and away to the Portland Timbers.
“They play a 5-2-3, they have a lot of speed up front with [Michael] Barrios, Jonathan Lewis,” highlighted Perez. “I had the chance to work with Jonathan in New York, I know him very well, I know what he's capable of.”
“Canadian Mark-Anthony Kaye is in good form as well, he has a lot of presence. And in midfield they have [Jack] Price and [Kellyn] Acosta,” he worked downfield. “Acosta I worked with him as well when he was a young player – very easy on the ball. And Price is a player that has a lot of experience, organizing the team. And then they have the back three with [Danny] Wilson and [Auston] Trusty, they keep the team very secure at the back and then the wing-backs.”
“We're going to find a side that is very similar to many of the teams that we play, this is one of the formations that is en vogue in the league,” noted Perez. “It’s going to be a challenging game with a team that is going to be very well organized at the back and are going to look for the chances and go fast up front.”
Barrios leads the side with seven goals, while Lewis, Diego Rubio, and Andre Shinyashiki have four each. Price, their captain, has not scored but his nine assists lead the way.
Alongside Fraser, several former Reds – Drew Moor, Steven Beitashour, Clint Irwin, and Collen Warner, as well as Kaye, who played for TFC II – dot the squad.
“Every time that you face a team where you worked, especially for so many years, coach Fraser is very capable, so that gives them an edge, but we will play our game,” countered Perez. “At the end that counts more. The mentality, for us, is there. We expect a good game on our side.”
It will be good to see the former players and coach, but there are points and pride on the line.
“I don't really root for any other MLS team – you're going to have to play them eventually,” levelled Bono. “But it's one of those teams when you see them do well, it puts a smile on your face that you got to spend so much time with some of the players and the staff members on that team.”
“It'll be good to see Robin and some of those guys,” he added. “It'll be fun to compete against them.”