TORONTO – While the rest of the club took to the training pitch during the international break, five Toronto FC players were off representing their national sides.
With Canada getting their Concacaf Nations League qualification campaign underway were Jonathan Osorio, Tosaint Ricketts, and Liam Fraser. Meanwhile, the U.S. had a pair of friendlies against Brazil and Mexico, where Marky Delgado and Alex Bono were on duty – Delgado was once again a late substitute for the Americans in their 1-0 win over Mexico on Tuesday.
Canada won 8-0 in Bradenton, Florida on Sunday, dispatching the U.S. Virgin Islands with an emphatic result and taking their first competitive steps under John Herdman.
Osorio opened the scoring after five minutes, Ricketts came on for the final 20 as five different players found the back of the net, and Fraser was on the bench.
“The mood is great,” said Osorio of the vibe around the Canadian side as they look to secure a spot in League A and a place in the 2019 Gold Cup. “The word for our group, our feeling, is excited.”
“We look around, at each other, who we have playing beside us, we all get very excited for what is to come,” continued Osorio. “Saying that, we're not looking ahead, we're taking it game-by-game, camp-by-camp. Guys have bought into the philosophy the coach has brought.”
The top six sides after the four matches of qualifying will play in League A when the Nations League proper gets underway in the fall of 2019. The top ten earn berths in next summer's Gold Cup. It was just the second time the senior roster had been able to get together under the leadership of Herdman.
“It was a great camp all around, steps in the right direction,” said Ricketts. “We got some new players in, some nice youthful, fearless players, doing well at their clubs. It's nice to get those guys in, get them capped; they showed well in the game.”
Lucas Cavallini, Jonathan David, and Cyle Larin all bagged braces, while Osorio and Junior Hoilett added singles.
Given the cut-throat nature of the competition, with goal-difference likely to play a role in the final tally, were eight goals enough for Canada?
“Eight was the objective,” relayed Ricketts. “Obviously more wouldn't hurt.”
But elsewhere the scorelines were more emphatic: Haiti won 13-0, Cuba 11-0, and Curacao 10-0 in the first round. Canada though were the only side to do so in an away fixture.
“No,” said Osorio of whether he was satisfied with the output. “We're in fourth place because of goal-difference. It's a good result, against a team that we should beat, but we want to finish first going into the next stage, so we have some catching up to do.”
With the added incentive to really put the opponent to the sword, not just beating them, but grinding them into the ground, no mercy can be shown in these matches.
“Plus-minus,” stressed Ricketts. “It may come down to that in the end. You've got to be ruthless, get as many goals as you can take advantage of the opportunity we have right now.”
Osorio sees added value beyond the goals themselves: “It's a bit different, but it's good.”
“It gets you into a rhythm of playing 90 minutes games: you don't stop when you're winning 5-0,” added Osorio. “The next games won't be like that, they'll be a lot closer, will take the full 90 minutes to complete.”
In the quest to score a bucketful, Herdman trotted out a rarely seen 3-5-2-type formation with teenage attacking prodigies Alphonso Davies and Liam Millar as wing-backs.
“All out attack,” is what Ricketts referred to the unusual lineup. “When you need to get goals, it was a good formation to put out. It was fun as well, a lot of attacking players, a lot of energy, a lot of options. It shows what we have in our attack, what quality we can bring.”
Osorio “Loved it.”
“We should have gone only one defender,” joked Osorio. “We believe in ourselves; it goes to show that the coach believes in our attacking ability and also believes that our back can clean things up if anything was to turnover.”
Herdman let slip on a prematch conference call that he was considering putting Bayern Munich-bound Davies at full-back, but it was difficult to believe until the side lined up on the pitch.
“Full-back with a lot of freedom to get forward,” noted Ricketts. “Alphonso can get up and down the line, he's very dynamic on one-vs-ones, getting forward, getting balls in the box.”
He was a constant menace up the flank, picking up a pair of assists on Larin's goals, while Millar set up Osorio's opener and was equally troublesome on the other side.
Up next for Canada is a match against Dominica on October 16 at BMO Field, a game that will mark Herdman's debut with the men's national team on Canadian ground.
“We're really excited,” said Osorio. “Playing at BMO Field is always special. I'm fortunate to do it a lot. For the other guys, especially the guys from Toronto, who don't play for TFC, they're excited to get a chance to play in front of family and friends, which they don't get to do as often.”
Added Osorio: “It's going to be great for our fans to see the progress the association has made these last few months.”
Canada has met the Caribbean nation recently, playing a two-legged series in the Second Round of Qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The Canadians won 2-0 on the road and sealed the tie with a 4-0 win at BMO Field on June 15, 2015, with Ricketts scoring a brace.
“The two goals, of course,” smiled Ricketts of his strongest memories from that match. “I was in Europe at that point, it was always a special moment coming back and playing at BMO for me. That's what I remember most.”
Canada will be looking for another such memorable night in Toronto come October as their quest to join the rest of the big boys of Concacaf in the top group of the Nations League continues.
“The boys are excited to get back on Canadian soil,” said Ricketts. “To have another match so close is big for preparations, add to that culture, that foundation that we're building.”
Until then, attention turns back to TFC and their push for a playoff spot. That begins on Saturday when the Los Angeles Galaxy come to town.
After that lies the inaugural Campeones Cup edition against Mexican side Tigres UANL on Wednesday and then a tricky away trip to Harrison, New Jersey for a match against the New York Red Bulls.
Delgado and Bono arrived back in Toronto on Wednesday, while Osorio, Ricketts, and Fraser were all back in training preparing for the visit of LA.
The chance to step away midseason, despite the additional travel and matches, can be invigorating.
“You go into a different environment, it's a whole new mindset,” said Osorio. “You come back refreshed. Maybe you miss a couple days off, but I have all off-season to make up for that.”