Toronto FC believe they’ve turned the page on a tough summer after last weekend’s 3-0 win over Chivas USA. It was a complete effort in all three phases: coaching, attacking and defending.
With no disrespect to Chivas, winners of just six games this year, the bigger test comes on Saturday when the Portland Timbers visit BMO Field.
Caleb Porter’s side is peaking at the right time, just like they did last year. The Timbers, led by MVP candidate Diego Valeri, trounced Vancouver last weekend in Portland. It was the sort of performance that was expected at the beginning of the year from the Timbers. Instead, Portland didn’t win a game until May and they’ve played catch up ever since. They’re above the red line now with their sights set on fourth in the West.
It isn’t just Valeri either. The additions of Danny O’Rourke and Liam Ridgewell helped solidify a porous backline. The Timbers have lost only twice since Ridgewell became their third designated player after joining the club from West Bromwich Albion.
Porter’s lakeside discussion with Ridgewell in June played a major role in convincing the Englishman to make the move to MLS. “I really spent the day with the guy and we did our homework in judging what other people said about him in talking to other coaches,” Porter said earlier in September.
“We were very thorough with that because if you spend money on a guy and he’s not the right fit obviously there’s more risk.”
The Timbers have conceded significantly fewer goals with Ridgewell in the lineup, barring a couple of blowout losses.
All of Porter’s designated players have been immense the last two months. Valeri, Ridgewell and forward Fanendo Adi, who is second on the team with eight goals, one behind Valeri, are playing excellent soccer. Former Red Maximiliano Urruti is also sitting on eight goals.
Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio had their way against Nigel Reo-Coker and Nathan Sturgis in Toronto last Sunday. The Chivas duo were overmatched from the outset as Osorio found heaps of space in which to provide Bradley an outlet.
The TFC midfield duo’s task will be more difficult on Saturday. Though their form this season hasn’t replicated that of last year, Diego Chara and Will Johnson are still among the better defensive midfield tandems in the game.
Bradley and Johnson go way back, but the U.S. international is expected to spend most of his time guarding against the attacking prowess of Valeri.
That puts the onus on Osorio to lead TFC’s attack in the midfield. He’s been the team’s most improved player from game one of the season and developed a rapport with Bradley, who has preferred to play deeper while his partner roams forward. Osorio will need to be the bridge between Bradley and the Toronto’s strikers.
Porter on Toronto
Caleb Porter knows what to expect when the game kicks off.
“I think we got to realize that they’re going to be motivated,” said the Timbers head coach. “They’re at home, they’re going to be flying around [and] they’re going to be aggressive.”
Though Porter’s side is in a playoff spot, he knows Portland cannot rest on their laurels.
“We got to keep pushing,” he continued. “We got to put pressure on Dallas, and continue to build pressure on the teams below us.”
“We can’t be satisfied staying where we’re at.”
Two teams unhappy with their current place in the standings meet at BMO Field on Saturday afternoon. This should be good.