That’s how long it will have been since last season's playoff exit when Toronto FC faces the New York Red Bulls on March 6 at Red Bull Arena.
Plenty of soul searching was done following last season’s end. Greg Vanney and his coaching staff were retained. President Bill Manning stated that the Reds couldn’t afford to concede 58 goals in a season again. In came MLS veterans Drew Moor, Clint Irwin, Steven Beitashour and Will Johnson. Out went Joe Bendik, Chris Konopka, Jackson, Robbie Findley, Ahmed Kantari, Collen Warner and Herculez Gomez.
During the preseason the emergence of three young players, Mo Babouli, Jordan Hamilton and 2016 MLS SuperDraft first round pick Tsubasa Endoh, dominated the conversation around the team. It appears the time is now for the youth on this team.
Toronto FC has never won at Red Bull Arena in seven contests. They’ll look to escape the unfriendly confines of Harrison with three points on opening day. Here are three keys for the season opener.
Meet The Press
There are few secrets between the Red Bulls and TFC.
Both clubs spent the latter half of the preseason in the same hotel in Orlando and trained on fields adjacent to each other for two weeks. Both clubs also participated in the Tampa Bay Rowdies Suncoast Invitational. Following TFC’s preseason match against Montreal, Vanney and the coaching staff stuck around to take in New York’s fixture against the Philadelphia Union at the Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex.
“They’re no different than they were last year,” said Vanney. “They’re going to put you under pressure, minimize your time with the ball and are committed to pressing high up on the field. They’re trying to get [us] to commit turnovers in our half of the field. Over the course of last year they proved it can be a very effective way of playing.”
The Red Bulls are a committed group that’s willing to step in, defend, and make things difficult, especially at home. Surviving the first 20 minutes will go a long way for the Reds on Sunday afternoon.
The Beginning For Endoh
When Tsubasa Endoh was selected with the ninth pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft the University of Maryland product couldn’t help but express shock. Now, just under two months later, Endoh is primed to make his first professional start on Sunday.
Endoh appeared in seven preseason matches and recorded one goal. Vanney says Endoh’s ability to remain consistent through a grueling preseason campaign has put him in a position to contribute right away.
“That’s the one thing you’re really looking for in younger players. His soccer IQ and technical level is there,” said Vanney. “Tactically he understands the game and has picked up on what we’re trying to do.”
With Jozy Altidore questionable to play on Sunday, the onus to support Giovinco offensively will fall on others, including Endoh.
We know this team will be able to score. It’s what happens on the other end of the pitch that will dictate how this season goes for Toronto FC.
Last year the Reds gave up 58 goals, tied for the most in the league. It was an unacceptable amount.
In came Moor, Johnson, Irwin and Beitashour, four MLS veterans expected to play a major part for a team that is looking to become functionally sound at the back. Their first test is more of an exam than a quiz.
The Red Bulls, led by Bradley Wright-Phillips, possess a dynamic attack that plays with speed and precision. A result at Red Bull Arena would be a terrific start to the season. Getting one while not conceding a goal would be even better.