TORONTO – Intent on heading into the World Cup break on a roll, Toronto FC return home for a midweek match at BMO Field.
This three game stretch is of particular importance as it provides a chance to close out the first four months of the season in style, putting behind a hectic opening phase before the annual grind that is summer in MLS.
A point against Columbus Crew SC and a win and clean-sheet against the Philadelphia Union saw TFC collect consecutive results away from home. Now a home match against D.C. United offers the chance to close out the run on their terms.
“Wednesday can't come fast enough for us,” said defender Jason Hernandez after training on Monday. “The games have come fast over this first part of the season, but we feel like we're rounding into form, getting key players back, and also that we look more like ourselves, feel more like ourselves. Wednesday we'll put together a strong performance and take away the three points.”
With Greg Vanney enjoying his birthday, assistant coach Robin Fraser took over the media duties.
“It's a big game,” said Fraser. “At this point, every game is.”
“We want to establish ourselves, the way we play and get comfortable in our roles with each other,” explained Fraser. “When we do that well, [we'll see] what sort of results we'll get. It's another game that is extremely important to us for building: in how we play, our understanding, our confidence. For all those reasons, it's very important.”
Do not let the opposition's lowly place on the table mislead. D.C. United, who have played just two matches at 'home' as they await the opening of their new stadium, Audi Field, on July 14, will not go down without a fight.
Having lost 2-1 on the weekend to Seattle Sounders FC courtesy of an 83rd minute game-winner, Ben Olsen's side will be looking to get back to the form that saw them pick up points away to the San Jose Earthquakes and LAFC in recent outings.
“They move really well defensively as team,” observed Fraser. “They're clear in what they're trying to do. As a result they put teams under pressure in good areas and win balls in good areas. They're very committed in how they move and that has translated into good attacking games for them.”
Darren Mattocks leads the side with six goals on the season, while Yamil Asad has three and Zoltan Stieber two. Luciano Acosta and Paul Arriola have pulled the strings for D.C. with five and four assists, respectively.
“They're a team that has a lot of dynamic players going forward, can be very explosive at times,” cautioned Hernandez. “The reality is whenever a team sees us on the schedule they circle that date; everyone wants to get the best of us.”
“We need to expect a hungry and energetic team; a team that is going to play with no fear and come after us,” added Hernandez. “Luckily, we feel the same way: we're very hungry. We're ready for anyone to come in here. We're looking forward to it.”
It is not uncommon for a team to take on the characteristics of their manager. Such is the case of D.C. and Olsen, who is in his eighth full season at the helm following an eleven-year MLS playing career, spent entirely with D.C. United.
“Grit... is Ben,” said Fraser. “It's how he was as a player: he'd show up and do whatever needed to be done to get a result on the day. He's taken that personality and transferred it into how his team plays. When they play with the sort of grit that Ben exhibits, they're a tough team.”
Toronto are intent on matching that on Wednesday night, as they aim to climb up the Eastern Conference standings.
“We take on every game; every game is like a final,” said Nicholas Hasler, who made his return from injury to the starting XI on Friday in Philadelphia. “It's about winning.”
“Columbus was important, [Philadelphia] was important; the next game against D.C. too because they're all in our conference,” added Hasler. “We need to grab points everywhere.”
Back at home after a pair of successful road matches, Toronto are intent on BMO Field becoming the fortress it was last season.
In both Columbus and Philadelphia, TFC scored the first goal, setting up the match to their liking. Not doing so proved costly against FC Dallas in the last home match.
“We've played quite good at home; against Dallas we had a good performance,” noted Hasler. “At the end, it's about efficiency in front of goal. When you have the chance, you have to score. When we scored the first goal in the last [two] games, it goes more easy than if we are behind. That's important: going into the game, score the first goal and just keep on going.”
And they will be welcomed by a lush new surface, as the pitch was relaid in the days after that match against Dallas.
“From the picture I saw, it looks very nice,” smiled Hasler. “If you have good players in the team and the pitch is good, the ball is moving faster. That is what is going to happen.”
Added Hasler: “I'm 100% sure we're going to have a good game on Wednesday. We're here to win.”