TORONTO – Backs against the wall, the action returns to BMO Field this weekend when the New England Revolution come to town.
Ten points off with five matches remaining, Toronto FC know that they are facing an uphill battle.
“At this point we're relying a lot on other results,” said Greg Vanney. “We've got to take care of our business and finish, whatever left of the season we have, on a positive note. New England [come] to town this weekend: very unique style, very aggressive in the press, very physical. We're preparing ourselves for that.”
The Revolution too are battling for a post-season berth. Unbeaten in four matches with three draws and a win--once thought done--they have clawed their way back into playoff consideration, a testament to what stringing a few results together can do in MLS.
In their first season under Brad Friedel, New England have been undergoing a bit of a, well, revolution after nearly six years under Jay Heaps.
“They were a team that liked to get the ball, play in the final third, make something happen,” said Nick Hagglund. “Now they're more of a pressing team, trying to counter on mistakes.”
Such significant changes often come with a measure of inconsistency. New England followed up a seven-match unbeaten run midyear with a stretch of nine winless. No transition is seamless.
“When you come as a new coach into a club that had been with Jay for such a long time, you're trying to reestablish your image of play,” explained Vanney. “They've gone through a lot of changes, additions, some of the usual faces are still there, but some are in different positions.”
Teal Bunbury leads the side with 11 goals, while Cristian Penilla, who scored twice in New England's 3-2 win over Toronto in May, has 10 and Diego Fagundez has chipped in with seven goals and leads the side with eight assists.
“The image of the game for Brad is somewhat similar to Red Bulls: real high press, high energy, in your face kind of game. His guys have been going through a process of trying to understand what he wants, the consistency of that can be up and down,” continued Vanney. “He's added some international players in the summer window, just getting integrated now.”
Defender Michael Mancienne headlined the summer additions.
“They've been a little inconsistent over the course of the year, but they're a hard team to play against, physically in your face all the time,” added Vanney. “They're the number one team in terms of fouls committed, they're athletic, just a tough team to play against.”
The Revolution have committed 432 fouls this season; TFC just 243, the least in MLS. FC Dallas is the only other team with fewer than 300.
Toronto's focus in training this week has been tightening up the defence.
“The amount of goals we've given up is an enormous problem; how we've given up goals,” said Vanney. “We've played a lot of games where, in terms of chance creation, field position, we've been the better team.”
“When you're trying to build momentum and you give up goals out of nowhere they're challenging for the group,” explained Vanney. “You're trying to find that stable building block; a lot of that is through the defensive side of things.”
To that aim, Hagglund noted: “The sloppy giveaways in our half is what is going to hurt us: that's what they're looking for. We need to be sound in the back when we're passing out.”
“Offensively and defensively, we're working on certain schemes that we know they're going to throw at us,” added the defender.
Vanney is looking to apply the lessons from the loss in New York last weekend.
“Both goals we gave up were balls we lost in the middle of the field and then turned into transitions the other way. We didn't manage [them] in a great way, the ball ends up in the back of our net,” detailed Vanney. “It's how we take care of the ball, making sure we don't put ourselves in bad situations and being able to manage some of them better, especially in transitions.”
“These teams that press like to create turnovers and then hit you. Don't compound errors with more errors,” stressed Vanney. “Once we get into our defensive shape, by-and-large we've been OK. Secondary is set-pieces: we've got to be stingier, more aggressive to get to the ball first, make sure things get cleared out.”
Specific to the Revolution will be, according to Vanney: “Managing their press, their athleticism, their directness; trying to play well at home and get a result. We've got to play wise, take care of the ball, and make sure we're organized.”
Five games left; no time for complicated messages.
“Just be clean on the ball; focus more on what we can do,” said Marky Delgado. “They've changed up their style. We're more focused on ourselves, what we need to get done, what we need to accomplish.”