TORONTO – Wheels up!
After a few days of preseason at the BMO Training Ground this week, Toronto FC depart, California bound, in search of more fruitful conditions on Friday.
“We're in LA for essentially a month,” laid out Greg Vanney.”We have multiple games, six or seven lined up. Some will be two games on one day, to try to split our group up, keep everybody on the same schedule. Some of them are MLS opponents: LAFC, the Galaxy, teams that are in the area. Try to get a Tijuana game again, which we've done the last couple of years. The schedule is lined up.”
“The goal is to make sure each guy has three 90-minute games under their belt before we start the season,” continued Vanney. “Last year that was more of a challenge, as we went into altitude and got down to Mexico. We're trying to take a little closer to the 2017 approach versus the 2018 approach which was very focused on Champions League.”
Physical testing and the early stages of conditioning were the focus while in Toronto.
“The first couple days we try to keep them in tennis shoes: a little bit of testing, some fitness-base type things, touch the ball a little yesterday, today some in the gym after we ran this morning,” detailed Vanney. “The idea is to get a foundation, get moving. And then when we get outside, on grass, in LA come Friday, we'll start to really hit the soccer aspects, the tactical aspects. We're trying to manage being at the beginning of preseason, on turf, and keep them out of these uncertain environments of competition, keep everything controlled.”
With the lessons of past seasons in tow, Vanney and company have slightly altered their preseason plans: minimizing travel, maximizing productive days, and ensuring consistent conditions.
“In previous years, we used to go to Irvine, come back, and then maybe go to Florida, pick up some games there. Last year we came back, then went down Mexico City, flirting with altitude training, guys were wearing masks in training here. There was a lot of stuff going on and a lot of travel,” said Vanney. “Whenever you travel in preseason it's a three-day affair: the day you travel, the recovery day. You lose days. And then [here], when we're on turf for the three or four days, we modify during that that period too.”
“We've tried to eliminate those variables, remain in one place,” continued Vanney. “That will increase the number of days we have available to train; we can give the guys off days appropriately; we stay on grass; we're not messing with altitude. What it will allow us, ultimately, which is different than last year, is in the second phase we can get a lot more high intensity, high volume training because we'll have more training days, we'll have more opportunities to play games, do training sessions.”
Added Vanney: “Our goal is to build up our fitness, our durability, in addition to preparing our game model for what we want to do for the season.”
The coach's main message?
“We've got to put in the work, especially in preseason,” stressed Vanney. “Nobody is complaining, everybody understands why we're doing what we're doing. Everybody is sacrificing, being away from families for a month – we've given a little opportunity in between to have families come out – but everybody understands it's for the greater good and that we need to get to work, work to get better every single day; that includes our fitness.”
“Nobody loves doing these runs, especially me running today,” grimaced Vanney. “But everybody understands the value of getting it done. It's one day at a time; work to get better each day. We can talk about championships and those kind of things when we reach our potential level. That was something last year that we maybe lost sight of, chasing in the standings and/or chasing a championship at the beginning of the year.”
“Be the best version of us every single day and keep pushing that level as high as we can,” emphasized the coach. “If we're good enough, we'll be in the championship race.”
Judging by early indications, the mood is good. And with the opening of the Concacaf Champions League a little more than a month away, there is little time to waste.
“Everybody seems fit; everybody seems hungry,” said Drew Moor. “We learned a lot from preseason last year. It comes at us extremely fast with Concacaf starting so early.”
With temperatures in Toronto unhelpful, Moor cracked: “We're going to California because I think it will be a little bit warmer there than here and the conditions are perfect.”
Along with the first team roster, a selection of TFC II players, as well a trialist or two – Ritchie Layrea and goalkeeper Alex Kapp, will be heading to LA.
“About 40,” said Vanney of the numbers. “It will work out to essentially three training groups. A few guys are away with the national team right now; Jozy [Altidore] is not ready to train yet. We'll divide [them] up in different ways as we train over the course of the days. I want to integrate the younger players in, see them in the mix with our more established players to see how they fit in and give each of them an opportunity to see if they can make the roster.”
Michael Bradley, Alex Bono, and Marky Delgado are currently with the U.S. National Team ahead of friendlies against Panama and Costa Rica.
“Their final friendly is February 2,” said Vanney. “We have a couple days off on the 3rd and the 4th, so they'll rejoin after that.”
Announced TFC preseason matches include Saturday, February 2 against Las Vegas Lights FC at Cashman Field and Saturday, February 9 against LA Galaxy at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Vanney unveiled the final warm-up match will be against Club Tijuana on February 12. A week later, TFC will be in Panama for the first leg of their Round of 16 clash with CA Independiente.
“We'll fly back here and have three or four days before we head to Panama,” said Vanney, in good spirits. “We wanted to make the trip to Panama a little longer.”