With the first game in over four months on the books, Toronto FC will be looking to build off a disappointing 2-2 draw against D.C. United when they return to the pitch on Thursday.
And if past experience counts for anything, it is that no opponent should look forward to facing an angry TFC.
“They're a little bit ticked off and a little bit embarrassed honestly that it went that way and so they're looking to get back on the field,” said Greg Vanney on Tuesday. “We had two different groups today – a group that was recovering and a group that was training – and both of them were very focused and looking forward to getting back out to the field and playing another game.”
This, however, will not be just another game. Nor is it solely a crucial group stage match for progression to the knockout stages of the MLS is Back Tournament.
Games against the Montreal Impact, whatever the competition, have a flavour all their own.
“For sure there was some disappointment, but the spirit to turnaround right away is definitely the one that's in us right now,” focused Quentin Westberg. “Montreal games are always special.”
“We are still very confident about the content of our game against D.C,” he continued. “The outcome wasn't the one we hope for, we worked for, but now that it's done we need to handle it properly and make the most of what we can learn from it and keep going with our principles.”
For most of the 83 minutes of Monday’s game, Toronto were in total control. What happened thereafter provided lessons to be absorbed.
“It's our first game in four months,” explained Richie Laryea. “I'm not making excuses, but it’s our first game so there are things that are going to be really good – for a majority of the game, we dominated, but there's also some lapses that we saw that we have to be a little bit better with.”
“Moving forward we know what to do in those circumstances,” he added. “This game was a perfect learning experience and it'll be much better moving forward.”
Ensconced in the bubble around the teams taking part in the competition at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida, Toronto has done little else other than focus on how to put things right and advance.
Usually, for a player returning to a place he made his home for three seasons there would be some joy in the familiar. This is not one of those occasions.
“It's just a business trip and about us getting the best results possible down here,” said Laryea, who was drafted by Orlando City SC. “It feels good to be back, but I'm not doing a whole lot.”
That game two comes so hot on the heels of the first is a welcome target. Even the concern that the quick turnaround would be tricky to navigate has dissipated, aided by how the game played out, the additional substitutions allowed, and the early reports on recovery.
“The game itself was not too taxing,” said Vanney. “Mistakes down the end cost us, but the game itself, when we look at the player load and the physical load because of the heat was not highly demanding.”
“The biggest thing is making sure guys get re-hydrated. We have the full complement of players, by and large. We still have to check in on a few,” he explained, naming Omar Gonzalez and Chris Mavinga in particular, who left the match in the second half. “It's always a calculation this early in the season: you have a guy out there who was cramping, do you risk them or make a change? We made a change; as a result both of them are fine, they've re-hydrated, and they're in a position now that they can play.”
The format of the competition will see the top two sides from each of the six groups advance automatically to the next stage, as will the four best third-place finishers.
The New England Revolution currently sit atop the Group C standings, having taken the full three points with a 1-0 win over Montreal in their first match, with Toronto and D.C. on a single point each.
Not that TFC needed any extra motivation against the Impact.
“The result obviously means that the points, in terms of the tournament, are going to be important for both of our sides,” began Vanney. “We’re both wanting to set ourselves up the best possible way going into the third game. Both teams are going to go for it.”
“We want to win, which is always the case against Montreal and always the case in a scenario like this against an Eastern Conference opponent where these points are going to matter to try to get us into the next into the next round,” he added. “We'll put out a group to win it.”
The old adage is that in a derby match, when local rivals meet, form goes out the window. These games are their own beasts.
“I don't expect anything, in terms of high or low,” balanced Westberg. “It's adapting once more, being happy to play a derby and being grateful to be out there and play. Now that we're here, it's just for everyone to be healthy, to be back to doing what we love.”
While this one will look and feel peculiar, at its core it will be just like all the others.
“Of course, the context is very different, and to my mind context is very important in soccer, but as of now [this is] the only way we can play,” reasoned Westberg. “TFC will stay TFC. We have our style of play, we have our values, we have our great group and our great club. So, it's about doing TFC.”
“Whether it's at 9 o'clock in the morning, 8 o'clock at night or 10:30 at night,” he continued. “It's representing the city and the club, as well as possible.”
With no spectators in attendance, this will likely be the most quiet meeting between the two, at least off the pitch.
“You don't have the fans and that's a big part of this rivalry,” highlighted Vanney. “The nature of both fan groups is to want to hate each other, which is part of what makes this fantastic rivalry. But the players know that we're representing our fans and cities in this game which is going to make it intense.”