TORONTO – As the countdown continues to next Thursday, the start of the FIFA World Cup is on everybody's mind.
When it does, Toronto FC will enjoy an 11-day break. Much though Greg Vanney and company are looking forward to the pause, there is the matter of two league matches – against D.C. United at BMO Field next Wednesday and this Friday's encounter with the Philadelphia Union – beforehand.
“We want to get there in as good a fashion as we can,” said Vanney on Tuesday. “We set a target number of points in this window here: three games, last game plus the next two. Getting to that little break with the points we talked about will give us a chance for guys to get a little down time.”
“For myself and everybody else, the [start] has been long and emotional,” continued Vanney. “Guys haven't had more than two days break through [it] all. Being able to recharge our batteries, come back ready to really get going is a positive for us.”
“We want to finish strong, then regroup and set our targets as we move into the summer grind and into the latter part of the season,” added Vanney. “We know where we are and what we have to do to get to where we need to be.”
That points target, Vanney revealed, is at least five, though the goal, with a point from the draw in Columbus in hand, is seven.
“Against Eastern Conference opponents, you've got to take something from each one,” said Vanney. “Disappointing to leave two points in Columbus, no doubt. Going there we knew it was going to be a challenge. If the game hadn't transpired the way it [did] and we took a point, we'd still be on target.”
Said Tosaint Ricketts, who scored his second league goal of the season on Saturday: “You take the positives you can out of a game like that. There was a lot of good – goals; some flashes of what we can do, how we can pull teams apart – that's what we have to focus on.”
“The mentality this week is getting back to work, knowing what is ahead of us, what we need to do to close the gap,” added Ricketts. “The first 65 was fantastic. The guys are working hard. We have the character and we definitely have the talent to turn it around.”
Added to that encouragement, there were more bodies on the training pitch this week, as a multitude of the injured players have or will return to full training this week. That has Vanney “optimistic that this will be a significant week of returns.”
And with Philadelphia on the horizon, a side that TFC dispatched 3-0 at BMO Field on May 4, the good vibes mounts.
“It's important to build off our positives,” reiterated Ricketts. “The last result [against the Union] was good. We know what Philly brings, what they're going to throw at us. It's a matter of focusing on ourselves, getting the mentality in the right place, going down there and getting a result.”
Having met so recently, neither side will have any secrets.
“Philly is the same team,” said Vanney. “They have been for a while. Personalities on the field have changed over the years – adding a [Borek] Dockel, [a David] Accam – but what they try to do is very consistent. They have an identity, are very steadfast in [it] and different guys play those roles in slightly different ways.”
There is one question mark hanging in the air, as the Union saw a rare double red card in Saturday's 3-1 loss to Atlanta United, with both Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin sent off for dissent after an early penalty kick was awarded to Atlanta.
“If they don't overturn those, then we'll see different faces in those positions,” suggested Vanney. “That's probably the biggest way they would adjust, unless they make a big switch because they are missing a couple guys. They believe very much in what they're trying to do.”
For a second-straight week, Vanney will have to keep an eye on his inbox to project what the opponent will bring to the match. Against Crew SC, the availability of Higuain and Cristian Martinez, one suspension rescinded and another imposed, that changed late.
“No, I haven't seen anything like that,” admitted Ricketts of the double red. “It's a little something we can take advantage of.”
The loss to Atlanta ended a strong run of form for the Union, who went on a four-match unbeaten run.
Part of that was the emergence of Cory Burke, who excelled with Bethlehem Steel FC, the Union's USL affiliate. Burke scored in his first start, a 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact that kickstarted the run, and added another in a win over the Chicago Fire on May 30.
“He's a handful; big kid, aggressive in his ways,” said Vanney. “You have to deal with him: size, speed, capacity to make things difficult.”
As news broke that Michael Rabasca would be taking the helm at Toronto FC II following the departure of Laurent Guyot, the successes that Liam Fraser and Ryan Telfer have found in MLS this season and Burke doing the same in Philadelphia is proof that “this process is working,” according to Vanney.
“For clubs like Philly, who are going to rely on homegrown players – one of their stated objectives – then guys like him, who come through, are important,” continued Vanney. “They've got a handful who are – [defenders Auston] Trusty [and Mark] McKenzie – guys who are pivotal to what they are trying to do in Philadelphia.”