TORONTO – And they're back.
Toronto FC will return to the pitch on Friday evening when they host Real Salt Lake at BMO Field after a brief hiatus on the heels of a hectic start to the 2018 season.
Between MLS and the Concacaf Champions League, TFC have crisscrossed the continent and played in all sorts of conditions. The pause was a welcome change of pace.
“It's been great,” said assistant coach Robin Fraser. “Guys have able to get some rest. It felt like since January 20 we've been going nonstop. I'm not even playing in the games and I honestly felt like I was looking forward to this break so I could figure out what day of the week it was.”
“I had no idea half the time. All I knew was it this many days before the next game and this many days after the previous game,” continued Fraser. “It was nice to get back here, have consistent days and training, a little bit of a schedule. It's been good to get back into a routine, knowing that we're about to go on the road again.”
After the Salt Lake encounter, Toronto will face another quick turnaround as they host Mexican side Club America in the opening leg of their semifinal series next Tuesday.
The team has used the international break to brace for what lies ahead.
“The break fared well for us,” said Tosaint Ricketts, who scored for Canada against New Zealand last weekend. “We had a fast start, a lot of games in a short span.”
“Training, getting sharp, getting everyone going 100%, whether you're in the eleven or pushing them to do better. That's all we can do,” added Ricketts. “The preparation on the side, off the field, is crucial. We go into these matches needing to get results.”
Up first is Salt Lake, who have had all this time to focus on coming to the home of the current MLS Cup champions, having beaten the New York Red Bulls 1-0 in their last match on March 17.
“What they've shown so far is they are a 4-2-3-1 kind of team,” said Greg Vanney. “They've got some interesting young attacking players who are mobile, active. They've picked their moments when they can press, put teams under pressure, but, by and large, they've been a consistent counterattacking team, trying to open up some space for those young, mobile, active guys to get out and get moving.”
“That's what we've seen so far,” cautioned Vanney. “A lot [of opponents] have different ideas of how they want to play us, so anything is possible. And they've had a full break to throw some new things in.”
“Barring them changing up their system and game plan, I could see them looking for a similar situation,” suggested Vanney. “Crowd up spaces against us on the attacking side, see if they can find their way out in transition and get those players, good one-on-one players, out in open field and get something in the transition.”
Salt Lake have a nice mix of savvy veterans and impetuous youth.
“They have some experienced guys in Nick [Rimando] and Kyle [Beckerman]; some young and dynamic players in Joao Plata, [Jefferson] Savarino, and [Albert] Rusnak is a very good attacking player. Justen Glad is a good player,” said Fraser. “They have an interesting group who have the ability to hurt you on any given day.”
With losses in the first two matches of the season, Toronto will be looking to collect their first points of 2018 on Friday in front of the BMO faithful.
“No one likes to lose, let's make that clear,” said Fraser. “We would like to win every single game and wish we were 34-0 at the end of the year. But it's all part of the process.”
“I don't want to sound like I'm making excuses,” stressed Fraser, cutting himself off mid-sentence. “The fact of the matter is every time we go out, we're trying to win. [Friday] is another opportunity to get right the things we've been working on all year.”
Fraser, who was assistant to Jason Kreis at Salt Lake, and worked with current RSL boss Mike Petke in New York, stressed he would take no extra pleasure in getting one over on his former colleagues.
“At the end of the day, I just want to win, it doesn't matter who the opponent is,” said Fraser. “It'll be nice to see Mike, he's a great guy, but it doesn't make a win any more special.”
With the break in pocket and an eye on the task at hand, TFC has no time to think of the past.
“Those matches are behind us,” said Ricketts. “We're focused on Friday right now, getting a result at home, and then on to Club America. We're taking it one game at a time. The losses are unfortunate, but it's a long season. The guys are fully focused and ready for the next challenge.”