TORONTO – And the summer grinds on.
Toronto FC are braced for the first of six league matches on the docket in July. It is a schedule that will see them on the road for four straight-matches, making stops in Minnesota, Kansas City, Orlando, and Chicago. Book-ending the month are a pair of home games at BMO Field, against the Chicago Fire on July 28 and this Sunday against the New York Red Bulls.
TFC are looking forward to getting reacquainted with a side they haven't seen since the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year.
“It's always a special encounter with [the Red Bulls],” said Justin Morrow midweek. “We have some good history, some good games. It's always tough. They're on their game at the moment, so it's going to be a difficult game.”
Approaching the midway point of the campaign, New York are one of four sides vying for the top of the Eastern Conference, a group that Toronto is looking to barge their way into. With one loss in their last nine matches, the Red Bulls are fast becoming one of the teams to beat.
For a second-straight year, Jesse Marsch's side moved their captain on – first Dax McCarty to Chicago and then Sacha Kljestan to Orlando City. They have added a few pieces: internationally, in the form of Alejandro Romero Gamarra, better known as Kaku; via trade with Tim Parker arriving from Vancouver (the always pesky Felipe heading in the opposite direction), and by internal promotion from their USL side, NYRB II, Florian Valot being the primary example.
But that has not changed the image of the side.
“They're the same team they always are,” suggested Greg Vanney. “They have a few ideas in possession of how they want to create things, but it's not in their DNA to worry about how much they have the ball and how much they put their attacks together. What they really want to is create a game of transitions, use those against you where they can.”
As usual, Bradley Wright-Phillips is a perennial threat, leading the side with 11 goals and five assists. Daniel Royer has chipped in four goals, while Kaku has three, as well as ten assists.
“They're always a unique game and a difficult opponent,” noted Vanney. “It's a game where you usually don't have a lot of possession because of the way they press. We've got to be smart with the ball, can't turnover in bad areas, stay organized defensively and make it hard for them to break us down.”
“We have to react really well in the transition moments, make sure that we are organized behind it and our reactions are appropriate,” added Vanney. “This is a team that doesn't worry about square passes: they're playing forward, sprinting forward, and you've got to be able to close those lanes off quickly.”
With a road-heavy schedule ahead, Sunday is a prime opportunity to kick off the month with a good result.
“We need to have a good game here at home on Sunday and then as we head on the road trip we need to take it step-by-step, grow together as team,” urged Morrow. “That's what I really want to see: us grow collectively, build upon our performances each game.”
That is the emphasis for Vanney and company: “Get back to our process of how we go about winning games over the long stretch.”
“There is an over-sense of urgency,” continued Vanney. “We feel like we've got to get results, got to go force the game, instead of just do the right things over the course of 90 minutes to position yourself to win the game. We're trying to force the issue. That is proving to be inefficient, it's exposing us. We need to get back onto a more controlled, longer vision look at it.”
“There is a sense that we have to make up all six, or ten, or twenty points in one game, in one play. It doesn't work like that. It's a process,” calmed Vanney. “We don't have to be in a playoff position tomorrow, [but] when the season ends.”
“We're not that far [off]: six points, a game in hand, 19 games to go,” detailed Vanney. “It's recognizing and getting back to our process of: this is what we do and this is how we go about games. The outcome will be the outcome when we take care of the details. We're trying to force the outcome and that's when you get into a difficult situations.”
Get that process in place and results will take care of themselves.
As a special treat for Canada Day, Toronto FC II will take on the Charleston Battery in the second match of a double header at BMO Field on Sunday – kickoff is set for 8:00 PM.
As the playoff race begins to heat up, it's going to be a fun four months.
“It's been tough for the last couple years [in the East],” said Jonathan Osorio. “Teams have been getting better. Right now we need to get ourselves into a playoff spot and we're close. One game at a time. Saturday is our next final.”