It’s Toronto FC versus CF Montreal, take two.
TFC will make the relatively short trip down the highway to Montreal for a Saturday night contest at Stade Saputo.
Montreal got the better of Toronto in the first clash, Tuesday night’s Canadian Championship quarterfinal, winning 2-1 at BMO Field, so the Reds will be eager to return the favour in this encounter.
“It'll be another tough game. You know it's this rivalry and what that means,” said Bob Bradley on Thursday. “And now, how quickly can we respond, recover – mentally, physically – and be ready to go at it. Those are the keys.”
Tuesday was Aimé Mabika’s first taste of the derby.
“Any derby is always a little bit more intense than any other game,” said the defender, who made his first start for TFC on Tuesday. “That's what you saw in the game, little arguments I was myself involved in, but that's what you want.”
TRAINING SOUND | Aime Mabika - May 11, 2023
“Those are the kind of games that you dream about playing in when you're younger,” he continued. “I enjoyed it quite a bit and lucky for us we get to play another one in just a couple days.”
“It was obviously super disappointing to lose that game, but in football, that's just how it goes sometimes. We can't hang our heads too much. That game is done. Now we have to focus on Saturday,” added Mabika. “For us, it's just been about coming together, staying together, and getting ready for the next game and trying to put it right.”
Tuesday was not only the 24-year-old’s first start for Toronto, but his first full 90 of 2023.
“A lot of positives for me to take from that game,” said Mabika. “First 90 minutes and I held up pretty well. Some really good starting points for myself to keep building on.”
And TFC will need him to step up as the absentee list lengthened with the news that the injury that forced Alonso Coello Camarero off early on Tuesday will sideline him for some time and Sigurd Rosted is still feeling the effects of clattering as well.
“Longest I've ever had, by far,” said Bradley of the growing list of players unavailable for the side.
“Over the course of a season, there's going to be injuries,” levelled Mabika. “It seems like it's a little bit more than usual, we haven't been able to get much luck, but we have guys that are willing and wanting to step up.”
A pair of defenders from TFC II – Anthony Curic and Adam Pearlman – were training with the first team on Thursday.
With the short turnaround between games it is useful that Toronto will face the same opponent this weekend with ideas still fresh in the mind.
“It helps,” said Mabika. “We can analyze that game in terms of what we want to do with the ball and then when we don't have it, how we want to press, get to the ball. We expect Montreal to play in a similar way, so that'll help us build a game plan.”
It’s been a tough few weeks for TFC since that defeat away to the Philadelphia Union at the end of April. Losses to the New England Revolution and Montreal have overshadowed a solid home win over NYCFC and that early seven-match unbeaten run.
Tuesday was Bob Bradley’s 50th match at the helm.
“Plain and simple we’re not where we want to be,” he underlined. “The fans and the city deserve a team that is competing at the top, year in and year out.”
TRAINING SOUND | Bob Bradley - May 11, 2023
“When you come into a situation and things haven't gone well for a few years, you know what's coming. You know that it's not just an easy process to get done,” Bradley continued. “There's been a lot of good work done, but the results don't show it yet.”
He wants more: more consistency, more effort, more football.
“There's times we have really good efforts,” he outlined, comparing Toronto’s goal on Tuesday to Montreal’s first. “The goal we scored Fede came back, made some pressure, stepped up again, made some pressure, we moved up as a team, Richie intercepted, we played football where it went out to Brandon in to Mark to Fede with Lorenzo running through, the pass didn't work, we’ve stepped up the field, Jahk scoops it up, makes a good pass back to Richie.”
“I'll see stuff like that,” Bradley continued. “Then in other moments, I'll see situations where we'll lose a ball and the guy that's closest to the ball, in frustration, instead of going and closing down and making pressure, stops.”
“So is it perfect? No, it's not perfect. Part of the challenge as a team goes through a tough stretch and is to keep them focused on the next play. Not getting caught up on the play that just happened, but how quickly do we react for the next play?” he urged. ““I joked with them this morning [while analyzing the tape of that Montreal goal] that we wouldn't be having this discussion if Fede had scored: ‘Put it up in the corner and then we can celebrate and everybody will be will be happy.’”
There will always be disappointments on the pitch: a play that doesn’t come off, a decision from the referee, a goal at the wrong end of the field, a free kick that results in a counter the other way.
“As a team, when a play like that happens, you want to see everybody react immediately,” said Bradley. “ In training you can't plan out a play like that, but then on the field, in a game, is there a willingness to react and make a run.”
“In Atlanta, off of a corner kick, Ayo [Akinola] made a huge run back to make a play defensively to keep the game 1-1. We've had moments where we see that – and that always gets recognized in front of the group – but across the board do we always do that well enough? No, at times when the frustration comes into play, at times when you're going through a tough stretch, at times when there's injuries, man, it's harder,” he closed. “Come on, this is more important now than ever.”