TORONTO – On the back of two-straight wins, Toronto FC return to the pitch on Wednesday night when Ottawa Fury FC come to BMO Field for the second leg of their Canadian Championship semifinal series.
With a 1-0 lead from the away leg, Toronto will be looking to close out this series before heading on to the final where they will meet the winners of the other semifinal between Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the Montreal Impact – Montreal has a 1-0 advantage of their own after the home leg.
Greg Vanney called the first match between the Ontario clubs “cagey” and “a game of trying not to make mistakes.”
“They're very organized,” explained Vanney. “They get a lot of numbers behind the ball, they aren't pressing too high, they're in their half of the field. Bouncy turf is not the easiest to play on, it's a game of managing transitions. It's not always easy to create on their field.”
“They play the way they play for a reason: very direct, put the ball behind. The turf is dry, the ball holds up. They put the ball behind you and when they can't, they get behind the ball and make it difficult for you to play,” continued Vanney. “On our field the game will look different: the grass will be slick and fast and wet; more conducive to us being able to put combinations together, put play together and speed up the rhythm of the game.”
Needing to score, Ottawa may be forced to open up, but teams don't often stray from what they do best.
“At some point they'll have to make a decision on what they want the game to look like in order to get the goal they need,” observed Vanney. “When you spend a lot of time developing a philosophy and a vision for what is going to make you successful, it's difficult to veer too far from that without exposing yourself in other ways.”
Added Vanney: “Set-pieces are going to be important. They're a good sized team. We've got to deal with those. It'll come down to little details inside of the game and us trying to get the game to look like how we want it to look.”
In the midst of a busy stretch, with a rematch against the Chicago Fire scheduled for Saturday night, Vanney will have some lineup decisions to make.
“It's a little bit of a puzzle,” said Vanney. “We want to maximize our ability to get points in the league; at the same time make sure we finish up the series. Balancing getting guys some time to try to get their match fitness without grinding down guys that we've used a lot lately. Put all those [considerations] into the blender and come up with a group that can win this series and still have us ready for the weekend.”
The win last Wednesday in Ottawa was a first step. Another on Saturday in Chicago, defeating the Fire 2-1, was a second.
“The mood is different, more positive,” said Jonathan Osorio. “We see that this could be a turning point, but only if we keep like this. It doesn't take one game to change everything. One to start, but then you have to continue.”
“This game on Wednesday is big to go to the final and we'll be closer to our goal, which is to win and qualify for [the] Concacaf [Champions League],” added Osorio. “And after, we'll turn heads to another huge game on Saturday. The win on Saturday is only good if we win again this Saturday.”
Many factors have contributed to the turn of fortune. The return of players missed – Jozy Altidore, Chris Mavinga, and Gregory van der Wiel to the starting XI – was one, but so too were defensive solidity and attitude.
“We were more connected as a group in both games,” said Vanney. “From front-to-back, side-to-side, our choices – when to step and press – were smarter. We conceded less chances than in previous games. We were better with the ball.”
Having taken the lead through Sebastian Giovinco's wonderful strike, heads could have dropped when Nemanja Nikolic nodded in the equalizer. But they did not. Instead, Toronto went up the other end and scored the game-winner within minutes through Osorio's calm confidence.
That is the sort of resiliency displayed by the side throughout 2017.
“We've talked a lot about that as a group,” said Vanney. “We're getting healthier, moving in the right direction. We can't allow what has happened in the past to affect the moment or the future.”
“It's easier said than done, but it is a big thing for us to establish moving forward,” continued Vanney. “That that belief we've always had – through last year, through Champions League – that over 90 minutes, if we stick to what we want to get done, we can win the game, turn the game, do what we need to do.”
[It]'s important; we're going to need it,” reminded Vanney. “From here to the end of the season is not going to be all roses either. We're going to have moments that are going to be challenging. The key is how we respond to each one of those moments.”
“[That] is going to determine our ability to get ourselves back into the playoff picture,” added Vanney. “No question that we, as a team, have the talent to go on a big run, but we can't have the little moments that don't go our way sidetrack us.”