IRVINE, Calif. – Blink and you missed it; the offseason is over and the Reds are back at it.
Just seven weeks after their MLS Cup triumph at BMO Field, Toronto FC will take to the pitch on Saturday for their first friendly match of the year, facing off against local collegiate side UC Irvine.
The match marks the first of five friendlies during the team’s stay in California as the Reds gear up for their CONCACAF Champions League opener on February 20.
“The guys are excited to get going. There’s a lot to play for this year and it starts off very quickly with Champions League, so there’s a great amount of focus,” head coach Greg Vanney told TorontoFC.ca. “This group has been together for a few years now, and because our last competitive game wasn’t very long ago, the starting point for the group is higher than usual.”
The match will feature three periods of 45 minutes, giving Vanney and his coaching staff the opportunity to evaluate the 40 players in camp.
“The physical side of things is important, getting 45 minutes under their belts in a competitive environment,” Vanney added. “It’ll be only the second time we’re getting into our shape on the field with 11 guys, so this match is really just about match fitness and working on relationships on the field.”
Now entering his fourth full season in charge, Vanney stressed the importance of continuity, pointing to a core group of players that can help set the tone for the newcomers in the group.
“We’re not starting from zero just because of our history together, so we’ll be seeing where guys are at in terms of recalling their relationships, their roles, the ideas that we have,” he said. “That will dictate what we want to work on in the next phase of this camp.
“We’re sharper having been together for a few years now and having played pretty recently. Those are all great starting points as you enter a season.”