Toronto FC

Toronto FC return to BMO Field amidst busy stretch with eyes on three points vs. New York Red Bulls

When Toronto FC steps on the field on Wednesday night against the New York Red Bulls \[WATCH ON MLS SEASON PASS ON APPLE TV\], nothing that happened previously will matter. The score is 0-0 and each team has 90 minutes to bend the result their way.

The loss to the New England Revolution doesn’t matter. Getting knocked out of the Canadian Championship by CF Montreal midweek and then losing to the great rivals again on the weekend doesn’t matter.

The slate wipes clean.

“You can't get too down in bad moments, you can’t get too up in other moments,” said Sean Johnson on Tuesday after training. “That's a sign of a team that goes through multiple things in a season, overcomes them and ultimately becomes better when it matters.”

“For us we’re just trying to take a look, in an honest way, at the things that we can do better – as a group, individually – and then work on the positive things and build those into games going forward,” he continued. “A tough time, nobody shies away from that. We all understand we're in a tough moment right now, but you’ve got to keep stepping on the field, putting your chest out, and going and putting out performances. That's about character.”

“Something that will never be questioned: go out every game, give it your all, build on the positives and look to correct the negative things,” Johnson added. “That's what we're about.”

Teams go through ups and downs. 

“There can always be a stretch where over the course of games the fight for points is hard,” levelled Bob Bradley. “This is pretty common.”

His message to the team is simple: “‘Shut out the noise, focus on what we do every day, here are the football things that we still need to improve upon, keep yourself going.’”

“Trying to find the right tone for them, especially when you're missing a lot of guys, is important,” Bradley continued. “The responsibility on your bigger players, on your veterans, on your experienced guys, when they're missing some of the ones that normally they rely on the most, that playing with this player might be a little bit different, but right now you've got to find ways on the field to help.”

“All games have mistakes. The game is fast, there's good plays, there's bad plays, there's good calls, there's bad calls,” he laid out. “Getting the team to understand that as you work through things the essence of the game is how a group of players on the field keep going with each other, find their way to get things sharper, to put some plays together, to make a play that bails out a teammate. These are the little things that turn a team around.”

“That is what we've got to focus on right now,” he added. “Get some results and get a few guys healthy and then we can feel like we've got some confidence again.”

The difference between a winning streak, a run of draws or losses is thin.

“I'd love to win every game 3-0, but it's not football,” said Johnson. “It's a game of margins. Teams are just better on the day, the game comes down to one moment versus another.”

So too is the battle for the Eastern Conference.

“You look at the standings and you know one or two wins puts us right back in the thick of things. One step at a time, but two or three wins and you're looking at top five in the table,” said the goalkeeper. “It's very tight this year, which I think is a positive for us. Slow start, but still in a position, if we take advantage of the games that we have coming up, to really climb the table and change the narrative.”

That begins on Wednesday at BMO Field against the Red Bulls. 

In an odd twist, through a mix of injuries, suspensions, and international duty, 21 combined players (Toronto nine, New York 12) will not be available.

“I can't remember one where it's so extreme for both teams at the same time,” said Bradley. “It's crazy.”

Added Johnson: “As freakish to me as it is to you.”

“Nobody wants to have injuries. To be honest you'd rather have every team playing their full squad and have everybody available,” he continued. “Obviously it's tough for us in this moment to have so many guys injured, but there are opportunities for other guys to step up. Guys have done a fantastic job stepping in, taking advantage of those opportunities.”

With Gerhard Struber departing earlier this month, Troy Lesesne has taken over the managerial reins and his side will be in good spirits after back-to-back 1-0 wins over D.C. United and this past weekend over NYCFC.

Even with a new coach in position, Red Bull are Red Bull.

“They have a style of play, Red Bull football,” said Bradley. “Red Bull New York, Red Bull Leipzig, Red Bull Salzburg, it's the same. They want to win the ball and go forward very fast.”

“They work a lot – the expression they use is ‘against the ball,’ so they want to create some chaos, they want the game to be fast, they step up in different ways, so I expect that there's moments like that,” he continued. “It's really important, early in the game, to understand what the game feels like. As the game goes on there's moments where then you can get a little bit more control, but the beginning of the game is quite important against Red Bull teams.”

Omir Fernandez with two goals and two assists on the season leads the way for New York. 

TFC are ready for that chaos.

“Defensively just making sure we're aware that they have a lot of numbers high and turnovers can be very direct opportunities to goal,” replied Johnson, asked how the Red Bull style changes the game. “Offensively that they have numbers high means they don't have so many numbers back, so it's just a matter of balance and finding a way to exploit the different times in which you'll be aggressive versus a little bit more conservative.”

“The game of football is just chess really. Can you exploit a team that presses? Can you break down a team that sits back? Create chances, limit opportunities, be good on the ball, and make sure that you're doing what you can to advance the ball up the pitch,” he added. “All those things are just constant every game, so we're prepared.”