TORONTO – The next phase of the season begins on Sunday.
Rested and refreshed, Toronto FC return from the FIFA World Cup break this weekend as they travel to New York City for a match against NYCFC at Yankee Stadium.
“It was much needed,” said Greg Vanney of the respite. “We started earlier, had a lot of emotional games; the travel took a physical toll on us as well.”
Vanney used the time, “To give the guys four or five days away to recharge, take a breath, allow time to heal, start to get guys back into training sessions and get them game prepped.”
“It could have come sooner, but we're glad to have had it,” added Vanney. “And now we look forward to the next stretch of games.”
It begins with a stiff challenge against one of the sides TFC are chasing at the top of the Eastern Conference: NYCFC, who currently sit in second place, behind only Atlanta United FC.
“They've been very good, won a lot of games; very good at home,” assessed Eriq Zavaleta. “A team that knows how to score goals at home; how to play on that little field. They've got a lot of the perfect players for [it]: the Maxi Morales', small guys that can whip around. And they have one of the best in the league in David Villa, who has been the heart of the team. We understand that they're going to be a team that wants to attack, wants to score goals, to come at us right away.”
Villa leads the side with eight goals and four assists, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi is a close second with seven and one, while Morales has six of each.
“We need to make sure we defend well. They've got a lot of guys that can hurt you,” cautioned Vanney. “They're a well-organized team, they're technically good and they move well off of each other. We've got to manage space well, be smart about choosing our moments.”
NYCFC have a plethora of offensive pieces, of that there is no doubt. The one uncertainty is what the new coach will bring.
Patrick Vieira, who has molded the side the last two-and-a-half seasons, departed to coach Ligue 1 side OGC Nice at the start of the month. His replacement, Domenec Torrent, should take charge of his first match come Sunday – one of Pep Guardiola's assistants and a former colleague of Victor Vazquez at FC Barcelona – though, having not yet arrived, whether he will actually be on the sidelines is unclear.
“I don't see much changing,” said Zavaleta. “[City Football Group] have done a very good job of having continuity throughout, understanding how they want to play. I, from Victor, have heard very good things about this coach: that he's going to be similar to Vieira in them wanting to build out, to play, to keep the ball on the ground; do the things that have made them successful the past few years.”
“It's going to present a unique and a new challenge, but one that we're ready for, one we're excited for,” added Zavaleta. “It's a perfect time for us to put everything together because we're going to need to to get a result there.”
The trip to New York begins a gruelling portion of the schedule that sees TFC play five of their next six matches away. The New York Red Bulls come to BMO Field next weekend, but then road matches in Minnesota, Kansas City, Orlando, and Chicago lay ahead.
That, according to Vanney, “will be a challenge.” The keys to success?
“Having a mentality of not giving things away," Vanney explained. “We know that we'll create opportunities, but we've conceded too many goals; that's ultimately where we've dropped points along the way. Being stingier defensively as a group, where and how we lose possessions. We've been [doing so] in bad areas, putting ourselves in tough situations.”
“It's a mindset you have to have when you go on the road,” continued Vanney. “You're not necessarily going to dictate from beginning to end and be the aggressor the entire game. We did a nice job in Philadelphia, being able to do that through chunks. This is going to be our challenge the next few weeks.”
Toronto enter the match having closed out the previous part of the season on a run of three unbeaten: a 2-0 away win over the Philadelphia Union either side of wild, high-scoring draws against Columbus and D.C. United.
“We've been trying to get some momentum,” said Zavaleta. “We're trending in the right direction if you look at the big picture.”
Added Alex Bono, who inked a new contract this week: “We fought hard, played well in spells, and we started to find our form. The second half against D.C. we looked a lot like full strength TFC that everyone knows and loves.”
“You take those as positives,” continued Bono. “We're still building. It's weird to say because we've been playing for so long, but we're still building into this league season. It's taken us a little while to get our bearings, but everyone feels that form-wise we're starting to play the way we used to for long spells and results-wise that is going to come.”