TORONTO – What a wild few weeks it has been.
Though hard to believe, it has only been a little more than a month since Toronto FC began the 2018 season.
From the frosty heights of Colorado and the hostile warmth of Monterrey to the musty interiors of Montreal, TFC have sampled all that the sport in North America offers in the six matches over that spell, all while progressing to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
“It's not easy,” admitted Victor Vazquez on Wednesday. “But when you are a professional, you have to adapt to everything.”
That the opening night win, 2-0 against the Colorado Rapids, was a mere 30-odd days ago boggles the mind. However, it is not just the sheer number of matches, but a variety of obstacles that must be overcome.
“The amount of miles you get playing in this event, plus the preparation we wanted to go through, along with the various climates we've encountered, the different surfaces we've played on,” recounted Greg Vanney. “It's been unique. At the end of the day, you've got to do it and to the best of your ability.”
Toronto moved on from that quarterfinal series with the Rapids, only to fall 2-0 to Columbus Crew SC in the opening match of the season days later. No time to catch one's breath, they were back at it again with the first leg of a Champions League quarterfinal against Tigres UANL, winning 2-1 in dramatic fashion as Jonathan Osorio back-heeled in a late winner.
A pause before the second leg allowed a moment's rest, but shortly after sealing progression, on away goals after a 4-4 aggregate tie in the series, TFC faced another cauldron: a derby away to the Montreal Impact.
The difficulties of navigating such a path are many, but Vanney keyed in on the shifting plans required as the target moves: “In the cup competition it's about getting to the next round. Your plans from game to game, from first [leg] to second now that you have an advantage, may adjust, and how that relates to your league game planning.”
While the players have adopted that oft-espoused 'one game at a time' attitude well enough, Vanney saw the loss in Montreal as a “snag” in two parts: “trying to integrate a game plan quickly and shifting a game plan.
“You're going into Monterrey and you have an edge, you want to protect that and play for your opportunity,” explained Vanney. “Versus, now you're going into Montreal and you have to make the game, have to break them down. It's a different mindset, a different approach.”
It's all about adjustment.
“That is where we need to learn and grow,” said Vanney. “We weren't as aggressive in Montreal as we needed to be to break them down and create chances. We were hedging at times when we needed to be aggressive. That's a product of going into Monterrey with a lead, and not putting yourself all the way out there. That carried over too much in the last game.”
“It's tough [to make that switch],” admitted Vanney. “In terms of focus, wanting to play, the commitment to play, the guys have been in a good position.”
Now, in the midst of an international break, the side has a brief respite, to rest and refocus before getting right back at it with two games in four days. They play Real Salt Lake at BMO Field on March 30 before hosting Club America in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal on April 3.
They embark on this next stage with the lessons of the opening month in tow.
“We said, when we were going to Colorado, that we have to adapt to cold. We did it, we did it well,” said Vazquez. “We didn't start well in the [league], we have to change that, [but] in CONCACAF we are doing well. We lost in Tigres, but made the result we wanted. And now we have to face Salt Lake.”
Added Vanney: “There are so many factors going into the start of the season, but they're special.”
“For us, they are experiences to learn from and grow from,” continued Vanney. “I think all of these games early on are a set of information for us to get better as a group, especially to push through the next round of Champions League and into the final. We've got to keep learning from each of these games, regardless of whether they are MLS or [CONCACAF].”