TORONTO – While the rest of MLS was busy with the second round of matches this past weekend, Toronto FC were enjoying a few days off.
Terrence Boyd had a particularly eventful, flying back in Germany to pop the question to his girlfriend, now fiancée.
After a flurry of matches to begin the season in February, March has turned out to be less hectic. Toronto played on opening weekend, winning 3-1 away to the Philadelphia Union, but now wait to face the New England Revolution this Sunday in the home opener at BMO Field.
“It's been good for us in that we had preseason and then three competitive games,” began Greg Vanney on Tuesday after training. “The first was nowhere near the level we expected of ourselves. We answered back, in terms of intensity in the next, didn't execute as much around the goal as we would have liked to. But then we built off of that; got a good result to start the league.”
“You take the information from those three games and have a window of time to work on our team and who we are without having to worry about preparing for somebody else,” continued Vanney. “That's what we were able to do last week for four training sessions. Not so much concern ourselves with New England, but just talk about TFC, the things we need to improve upon, add to our game based on what we've seen from the first few games and how we want to move forward.”
“Same today and tomorrow we'll start to really prepare for the specific match and the opponent, New England,” added Vanney. “And then we'll have another break to take more steps forward, add more guys into the mix. It also has won us time to get guys healthy.”
TFC lobbied the schedule makers for less congestion at the start of the campaign having experienced the gruelling beginning to 2018 between MLS matches and the Concacaf Champions League.
CA Independiente ended the latter competition for TFC, so now all focus turns to the league.
“The silver lining, that we didn't want,” stressed Vanney, “is that we can manage better the early season loads. Since we have it, we're going to make do with it.”
That is not to say it has been an uneventful time.
On Tuesday, the national team rosters for the upcoming international break were announced with Jonathan Osorio called to Canada ahead of their fourth Concacaf Nations League Qualifier against French Guiana on March 24 in Vancouver, while Michael Bradley will lead the United States into a pair of friendlies, against Ecuador on March 21 and Chile on March 26.
The players will report for duty after Sunday's match and return well before the next one on March 29 against NYCFC.
“I don't miss any games, it's perfect,” said Osorio, still rounding into his old self after offseason surgery. “March is a slow month. [The Canada match] comes at a good time for me: another chance to get rhythm back, another game to get form.”
And last week it was announced that four players were going on loan: first teamers Ryan Telfer and Aidan Daniels, as well as TFC II's Shaan Hundal and Robert Boskovic.
Telfer will be with York9 FC of the Canadian Premier League, while Daniels, Hundal, and Boskovic head to Ottawa Fury FC of the USL Championship.
“We have guys who are still progressing,” said Vanney. “In order to [do so], they need to get a lot minutes. Between TFC and TFC II we don't have enough minutes to get guys the appropriate amount they need to take the steps forward that they need.”
“There is a purpose behind each one,” added Vanney. “The biggest: we're trying to develop as many of our players as we can; give them the appropriate number of minutes.”
The TFC coach explained the thought process behind the moves: “Ottawa are in a higher flight of the USL. [Daniels and Hundal] have been in USL for years, so this allows them to stay in that top bracket.”
Last season was Boskovic's first full one at that level, but he was amongst the most consistent performers for TFC II.
Telfer, meanwhile, has “a unique relationship” with York9 assistant coach Carmine Isacco, who helped him develop at York University before joining TFC.
“Ryan knows the coach, worked with Carmine and those guys,” said Vanney. “They can really – and we've talked to them about ways they can – try new things, positions with Ryan, play around with that as we chart what might be the best path for him. He's comfortable there, which is important; he's close to us, if we need to pop him back for a day or two to see where he is at we can do so.”
That former Red Jim Brennan, no stranger to the halls at the BMO Training Ground, is the head coach at York9 helps too.
“Knowing the staff, the setup; knowing they know him, how to work with him. Those are all important,” said Vanney. “It will be interesting to see how one of our players can benefit from that situation. It's something that will be available as we look at things in the future. It's a little bit of test, but a safe one because we know the environment, know the people involved.”
Still, news packed or not, Sunday cannot come soon enough.
“You want to play, guys get antsy,” admitted Osorio. “But we took it to prepare for what will be a busy summer. We're trying to take advantage of this to prepare our bodies for that.”
A little bit of rest never hurts, heal up the knocks to this point and brace for a long season.
Vanney said that Eriq Zavaleta and Jozy Altidore, the only players listed on the injury report heading into the Philadelphia match, have both made progress with Zavaleta good to go.
As for Jozy...
“He's making progress,” said Vanney. “It's day-to-day now, see how he reacts every time we add some load, add some movements. He looks good, he's getting there.”
As for Sunday, Vanney would only say, “I have optimism that he can be involved.”
And after the Revolution, the international break sees another pause before a date on March 29 against NYCFC also in Toronto.
“It benefits us,” foresaw Vanney of another spell on the training pitch. “We win more time, which can help to continue to progress Jozy; [Alejandro] Pozuelo will be in by then. It's a good chance to continue to build and enter this season.”
But first: “We've got an important match coming up against New England. Looking to get a good result there.”