TORONTO – Win the first 15 minutes.
That is the message emerging from Toronto FC as they prepare to return to BMO Field on Friday night for a match against Orlando City SC, the first of two home fixtures over the coming week.
As Greg Vanney pointed out in New England, TFC have conceded ten goals in the opening quarter-hour of halves.
“Anyone who has looked at our team over the last couple of years, when we get the first goal, our record is pretty extraordinary versus when we concede first,” said Vanney on Tuesday. “When we're in good form, it's not the end of the world. We've proven we can recover. [But] how we start games, how we start halves, needs to be better.”
This year, Toronto are unbeaten in MLS when scoring first and winless when conceding.
There is a target on their backs.
“When you win a championship you get the best shot of everybody,” said Vanney. “Teams are going to come out with their best possible game plan to get a result.”
“We have to be sharper, better, both with ball and dealing with transition moments,” continued Vanney. “The margins are much thinner. One bad play could mean that we're in trouble. Right now, we're not creating the margins that allow us leeway.”
Analyzing what has gone amiss, Vanney can dismiss several possible culprits: “I don't think it's a question of intensity or concentration.”
But he does want to see, “more urgency”.
“In how we approach the game from start to finish. It's making good choices. We also have to recognize what it takes, down to every detail, to get results,” added Vanney. “Tilt the bar a little to 'do what you have to do to get the result'. The details will take care of themselves as we build momentum.”
While there is admittedly some frustration at the current predicament, that can be productive: “If frustration turns into a clear perception of the things we need to tighten up, to do and commit to, then frustration is not the worst thing. Our group understands pressure and can handle [it].”
Toronto will be looking to exorcise that against Orlando, who currently sit in fourth in the Eastern Conference.
“They're similar to what they have been the last couple years: fast in attack, dangerous in attack; midfield is solid,” said Alex Bono. “We know they're good on the counter; have a tendency to give up some goals. We want to score and limit their opportunities.”
With six wins through ten matches, Orlando are one of a strong stable of conference rivals who have gotten out the gates quick.
“They've gotten off to a good start, results-wise,” noted Vanney. “They've been stingy; not always playing great, but finding ways to get a result out of it.”
Jason Kreis' side restocked in the offseason, bringing in Sacha Kljestan from New York and Justin Meram from Columbus, to name but a few of the recruits.
“They have a fairly veteran team now, with the additions of Sacha and Meram; added some guys on the back-line,” continued Vanney. “It's a group that has found ways to get wins. There is something to be said for that.”
“They have guys that can make plays. The Dom Dwyer's; [Yoshi] Yotun is a very good player in the middle. They've got a lot of pieces that are interesting,” added Vanney. “As they said, coming into this stretch – they had to play Atlanta, have to play us – this is going to be a true measurement for them in how far they have come.”
Yotun will be suspended for caution accumulation, seeing his fifth yellow in a 2-1 loss to Atlanta United FC on Sunday, opening the door for the fit-again Uri Rosell to step into the middle of the park.
Stressed Vanney: “We have to be on our game, disciplined, smart about how we choose to go about things. And also have to be efficient in the moments where we get chances.”
A slow start has not changed the expectation this season for TFC.
“We know we have ability,” said Bono. “We believe we're the best team in the league. That's a mentality that we have to take forward, train with every single day, and [come] gameday have to expect we're going to boss the game.”
The past in now behind.
“That's the beauty of sport: no matter what happened the game before there's always another one to come. There are many more to play,” added Bono. “We look forward, put the start behind us, and go on a run.”