Nary a moment to rest.
Days removed from one of the biggest nights in club history, Toronto FC are right back at it, preparing to face the Colorado Rapids on Saturday afternoon at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
Tuesday night saw the club seal a place in the Concacaf Champions League Final, where they will meet a third-straight Mexican opponent, Chivas de Guadalajara over the coming weeks.
The 1-1 draw against Club America, at the legendary Azteca Stadium, advanced TFC to the final by a 4-2 aggregate score, but--as part of the 'one game at a time' ethos Greg Vanney has fostered--before those two legs can be considered, a league match against the Rapids requires their undivided attention.
Toronto and Colorado have already met twice this season in the Round of 16 phase of the Champions League with TFC winning 2-0 in Colorado and seeing out a 0-0 draw in the second leg at BMO Field to advance to the next round.
Since then, under first-year coach Anthony Hudson, the Rapids have grown into themselves.
“They're more familiar with what the coach wants them to do and what they are looking for out of their system,” explained Vanney by conference call on Thursday afternoon. “Familiarity amongst each other, how they want to press: they've become more aggressive on the pressing side.”
“They have more confidence and clarity in what they're doing,” continued Vanney. “And they've added a couple pieces along the way that weren't factors when we played them earlier in the year.”
Midfielder Joe Mason was signed on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers on the day of the opening leg, but did not feature in either and Ivorian forward Yannick Boli joined mid-March. Mason has since become a fixture in the side, while Boli is yet to feature.
“Between adding a few players and all around having more familiarity and experience in the system and what they are trying to do as a team, they've improved since the last time we saw them,” said Vanney. “They'll play in a back five or a 3-5-2, similar to things we've done in the past. They have some very relatively rigid movements that they do as a team, we have to be aware of those and account for the runners and the different things that they do. By and large, they're just better at what they do than they were the last time that we saw them.”
One of those runners Vanney referred to is Dominique Badji, who scored the late equalizer in last season's meeting and has four goals in as many games for the Rapids this year.
Toronto travelled straight to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado from Mexico City, maintaining a familiarity with altitude, but still the grind of this frantic opening two months has taken its toll on the side.
“Generally the guys are doing OK, [but] I'd be lying to say there wasn't some fatigue,” admitted Vanney. “With the start of season and Champions League, no matter how you play it out there is a lot of travel, different time zones, a lot of things that go on. We've been at altitude twice now, we're still at altitude. [And] these games also are 'edge of the seat' [stuff], they're emotionally draining.”
“There is for sure some fatigue there, but the guys are excited,” continued Vanney. “Outside of the injured guys, there are bumps and bruises, nothing more than what you get in highly competitive games.”
Victor Vazquez, Justin Morrow and Chris Mavinga are nearing return from injuries that held them out of the Champions League, while Jozy Altidore and Gregory van der Wiel are questionable after exiting Tuesday's match in Mexico City through injury.
Vanney was typically coy about what XI he would be trotting out on Saturday: “We will rest who we need to rest, will play who we think is in the right physical and mental frame to play.”
But he did hint they may be some changes from the group that expended such effort on Tuesday.
“A lot of guys will get opportunities this weekend, which is great for them and for our team,” added Vanney. “We'll set our team up to go in to Colorado to win the game. That is the mindset of our club – it doesn't matter who is on the field – to compete and go after this game.”