Toronto FC are back in action this weekend with the visit of NYCFC to BMO Field.
During the two-weeks of the international break, Bob Bradley and company were hard at work on the training pitch. The spring weather has been a tad unreliable, but that is just a minor inconvenience.
It was a good chance to assess the four matches played thus far and address some specific issues.
“Yeah, it's always good,” said the coach after training on Thursday. “We had a very good four-day stretch last week, it was one of the more normal stretches. It's been a little bit, weather wise, rocky, your ability to get outside and train in a good way is challenged, but the players have done a really good job of dealing with everything.”
One of the areas the team has looked to progress has been actions in the final third. Jayden Nelson in particular is looking to add to his game in that part of the pitch.
“The final third, the goals and assists, that's what I need and that's what needs to come,” highlighted Nelson.
In his third season with the first team, the 19-year-old Nelson has looked dangerous. Bradley wants to see that potential turned into result.
“For young players, confidence comes from making plays that count, making important plays,” he explained. “Jayden has earned the respect of everyone in the sense that you see moments where he's talented, where he's quick, where he can get away from someone. The next step is him getting more consistency when he gets those advantages.”
“The ultimate part is just making a play that matters for the team,” Bradley continued. “I spoke to him at the end of training today about how we've got to continue to find different ways to work through some of the areas where he needs to improve.”
“We’ve done a few different things in training in the last two weeks that, he didn't know, but were designed for players like Jayden and Luca Petrasso and Deandre Kerr and [Ifunanyachi] Achara, where an advantage is created and a player is now on the move going forward, entering the box from the wide part of the field with an opportunity to get to goal or to slow down, make the right pass,” he detailed. “The key is just the confidence and now getting him to the point where in some of those advantages, we start to see some goals and assists.”
With one assist in seven appearances last season, Nelson wants more.
“It's something that I've been working on and the coaching staff is helping me on, but it's still a process,” he said. “I've been playing a lot of games so far, I just want to keep working, keep playing, and just keep getting that experience.”
Like all the other young Canadians, the events of the last year – three rounds of Concacaf World Cup Qualification and more specifically Canada clinching their berth in Qatar on Sunday at BMO Field against Jamaica, a match Nelson was at – has fuelled the fire.
“It's been a process,” replied Nelson. “You can clearly see that whatever they've been working towards, it's came through. It’s a dream. I could tell that it means a lot to the country, it means a lot to me, so it's really exciting right now.”
“Of course, I'm hoping and wishing that I could be a part of it in the future and the near future,” he added. “I can't wait to see them in Qatar.”
Canada will learn their opponents on Friday morning, but TFC will be focused on the visit of NYCFC.
Ronny Deila’s side comes to town on the back of a 2-0 home loss to the Philadelphia Union on March 19. Through four matches, their only win was a 4-1 victory over CF Montreal at Yankee Stadium, having lost in the season opener away to the LA Galaxy and drawn 0-0 away to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The defending MLS Cup Champions have also had to deal with the trials and tribulations of the Concacaf Champions League. They dispatched Costa Rican side Santos de Guápiles in the Round of 16 6-0 on aggregate and squeezed by Comunicaciones FC of Guatemala in the quarterfinals, advancing on away goals. They won the first match 3-1 at home, but fell 4-2 in the second, setting up a nervy finish.
NYCFC are set to face the Seattle Sounders in the semifinals with the first leg in Seattle scheduled for April 6.
“NYCFC is a good team,” levelled Bradley. “The beginning of seasons can take on all sorts of different challenges, in their case their schedule with Comunicaciones thrown in and the importance of Champions League. They’ve shown moments where you can still see the football they play, the talent that they put on the field.”
“You know they’re deep, so even in certain moments when they have had injuries, other guys step in and do well,” he continued. “They've got this semifinal series coming up with Seattle, the two legs, and so they've got a lot to deal with, but they seem to handle it all really well.”
Taty Castellanos, last year’s MLS Golden Boot winner, has yet to score in league play this season, but four others – Talles Magno, Thiago Andrade, Santiago Rodríguez, and Alexander Callens – have registered goals.
On the back of the first win of the season against D.C. United heading into the break, a match against one of the teams expected to compete this year is a good test for TFC.
“They're a dynamic team, they like to play a lot of touches in the midfield and stuff like that,” said Nelson. “They're playing in the Concacaf Champions League, they’ve been doing pretty well, so it's going to be a good match.”