Toronto FC

Toronto FC begin the marathon week with New England clash at home

Matchday_TFC24_TW (1)

Toronto FC are braced for their first bit of fixture congestion in 2024.

Beginning on Saturday with an MLS clash against the New England Revolution at BMO Field, TFC will play three matches in the next week.

Toronto hosts the 2023 League1 Ontario champions Simcoe County Rovers FC on Wednesday in the preliminary round of the Canadian Championship and then hits the road for another league contest next Saturday away to Orlando City SC.

With six league matches scheduled in May and five each in June and July, it will be a good warm-up for what lies ahead.

Add in that injuries continue to be a factor and John Herdman was plain when asked about how much squad rotation will factor into his thinking for the stretch ahead.

“A lot,” he replied. “We’re only rostering 19 tomorrow, that's our reality. Into Wednesday there will be a lot of rotation and then a very tough match against Orlando.”

“I can't even look past Simcoe,” Herdman reminded. “These games, if you get the mindset wrong, if you in any way overlook the quality of the opponent, this has got banana skin written all over it.”

“The level of intensity and focus going into Simcoe will be strong,” he continued. “There is a group of players that are aware that they're going to take that responsibility on, but we're not taking that match lightly. The Canadian Championship is a trophy this club wants to win. There will be rotation, but rotation among 19 players – some TFC II players may pop up – but I'll be pushing that group as far as they can go and not giving players opportunities that haven't earned the right.”

A red card last weekend in Charlotte to centre-back Kevin Long will force yet another change to Toronto’s starting lineup.

“That's been our reality this season,” levelled Herdman. “We just haven't been able to get that consistency and cohesion.”

“Nicksoen [Gomis] did a wonderful job in the preseason – most of the preseason was Nicksoen, Raoul [Petretta] and a combination of Shane [O’Neill] and Sigurd [Rosted]. I've got all confidence that those players can play in those positions and we can adapt as well, if needed.”

That inability to build consistency and cohesion has been a central part of the recent defeats – at home against Sporting KC and away to Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Charlotte FC, but those wrinkles come in every season.

Conceding soft goals has been more costly.

Herdman shared what goalkeeper Sean Johnson laid out for the group this week as they look to return to winning ways on their home turf.

“Sean was very clear that when you have conceded five goals in two matches from second phase recycles in set-pieces – whether it's a throw-in, free-kick, or corner – that isn't championship standards,” he laid out. “We were coming out of [Charlotte] with a point. There's no reason why we shouldn't have came out with a point, maybe even three, but a point was a fair result. And even the Whitecaps game, we were well in that game, we were climbing back in and a recycle off a set-piece costs you. We've just said, ‘Enough.’”

“It has to be an area of attention,” Herdman continued. “We worked on that today, worked on it yesterday, roles and responsibilities, but it's a commitment from those guys coming off the bench that they're not coming in to try and win a football match, fighting for their jersey, or trying to get their moment in the sun – it's about doing what the team needs. It's about the clarity in their roles.”

“And it's not just the starting XI,” he added.

“It's the technical staff, it's the subs, coming in with absolute precision and clarity. Today we worked on mindset and Sean Johnson set a real tone about the expectations and what ‘above the line’ looks like in that area.”

Saturday will be the second meeting of the season between Toronto and New England. A delicate chip from Lorenzo Insigne in the 27th minute proved the difference in the first meeting back on March 3 at Gillette Stadium.

The Revolution enter the weekend at the bottom of the Eastern Conference having lost 2-0 away to NYCFC last Saturday.

Caleb Porter’s side got their first win of the season at the start of the month, defeating Charlotte FC 1-0 at home, and with their Concacaf adventure having come to an end at the hands of Club America their full attention turns to MLS play.

Carles Gil leads the side with three goals through seven appearances, his brother, Nacho, is tied for the team lead in assists, alongside Esmir Bajraktarevic and Matt Polster with one each.

Asked if he saw a comparison between New England and Toronto, Herdman found far more differences than similarities.

“I got asked that question yesterday,” he began. “The similarities is, yeah, it's a new coach. The differences are they've had Concacaf Champions Cup, which is either a curse or a gift. If you're losing your league games and then you lose those games, then it's a curse. If you're winning, it's a gift because you’re just getting cohesion, guys are playing.”

“We finished bottom of the league, the worst team in TFC history last year,” Herdman continued. “For the last two years we've finished around the bottom of the league. I don’t think New England have been in that reality. New England have had three DPs available every game, Toronto are playing with one. We've had six injuries per game and they've had one or two from what I've seen.”

“There's a lot of differences,” he closed. “We're sitting on 10 points; only four points away from the top four. This game is a huge match to get back into that top four hunt.”