TORONTO – The summer grinds on.
Days removed from a pair of matches in sweltering conditions, at BMO Field against the New York Red Bulls and on the road against Minnesota United FC, Toronto FC are braced for the continuation of a busy month.
The two matches were the first of six league fixtures in July, while the Canadian Championship kicks off later this month with a two-legged semifinal series against Ottawa Fury FC, as TFC aim for a third-consecutive Voyageurs Cup title, earning the right to represent the country in the Concacaf Champions League again next season.
“The good thing is a lot of what we need right now is to play some games, have some good moments in games, go through a game mistake free. [That] is what we need,” said Vanney earlier this week. “A lot of training sessions is not the answer for us. The group knows what it is about, what it needs to do. It's just the opportunity to do it, get it moving; get things to fall in our favour.”
The long season has not diminished their hunger one iota.
“Every one of these guys wants to get out on the field to play games,” said Vanney. “Ultimately, that is where we can turn tide. We're looking forward to getting out and competing, banding together as a group.”
What defines the summer grind is not just the rising temperature, but also that the matches tend to come thick and fast as the MLS season builds towards the latter stages. This three-game week is the first of a series of them on the docket for TFC.
“The guys understand as pro these are the type of scenarios you have to go through,” said Liam Fraser on Friday. “We had a good session today, got our legs back under us, we'll be good for tomorrow.”
The key going forward, for Fraser and company, is to build some “momentum”.
“We're going to look to get a good result tomorrow and build off that,” said Fraser. “There are some parts from the beginning of the season that we want to improve on and some stuff we're happy with. At the end of the day, it's about getting points on the board to make a playoff push. We all have the mentality that we're capable of doing it.”
That the next four come on the road – Sporting KC this weekend ahead of trips to Orlando City SC, Ottawa, and the Chicago Fire – provides an opportunity to hone in on the necessities.
“We love to play at home, but there is a mentality about going on the road, pulling together as a group and not having the onus on you to make game look a certain way. You can really pull together, compete; [be] physical,” said Vanney. “That's how you get out of situations: by grinding as a group, willing your way to a result.”
“The road allows us to be together, to go out with this mindset of competing and doing all the little things it takes to win games,” added Vanney. “We love to do that at home, in front of our fans, but right now we need to work out these things and on the road is a good place to get it done.”
That intent did not go to plan on Wednesday, when Toronto fell 4-3 in Minnesota.
But they will have another chance come Saturday, when they head into 'Blue Hell' for a date with Sporting KC, who, following a midweek road loss against Real Salt Lake, sit in second place in the Western Conference.
“Kansas City are a team that are wired tight; been doing what they do for a long time,” observed Vanney. “Nice, simple, and clean about how they go about their business, and always a tough place to play.”
Riding a pair of defeats – they also lost on the weekend: 2-0 against the Montreal Impact – that snapped a seven-match unbeaten run, Sporting KC will be eager to make amends.
“They pride themselves on being a tough team to play against,” said Vanney. “Defensively, especially in their building, they have ways of getting pressure on you and they've evolved over the years into being a good possession team. If you don't find the right balance in the game of having the ball, being able to get pressure on them, being able to create, it's a team that at home can overwhelm a little bit.”
“For us, it's finding the right balance, being tough to breakdown, but being able to get out of our defensive shape, to attack and force them to defend us,” continued Vanney. “It's not miles away from the Red Bulls high press; they go about it in their own way. The Red Bulls rely on it heavily, whereas Kansas City look to use it out of possession, they like to have the ball a little more. The similarity is you've got to be able to play through pressure and turn the game around.”
The gruelling summer grind has begun; Toronto knows what must be done: it's about executing at both ends of the pitch.
“Our approach needs to be about us right now, playing mistake free,” urged Vanney. “Or, if there are mistakes – everybody makes mistakes in games, that they are not costly mistakes, big mistakes, and continue to create chances and get them to fall for us.”