TORONTO – Right back at it.
Days removed from the 2-0 loss away to Atlanta United FC, Toronto FC return to action on Saturday afternoon when they welcome the Philadelphia Union to BMO Field.
The first two games from the spell of five in 15 days have come and gone. With three points after two away from home, attention now turns to back to Toronto as two of the top sides in the Eastern Conference visit days apart – the Union currently sit atop the East, level on points with D.C. United, who visit on Wednesday.
“Spirits are good today, guys are excited to play at home” said Greg Vanney after training on Friday. “For us, the road trip was solid. We took three points from two road games – that's not the worst thing in the world, we got a lot of guys through some minutes, came back healthy, and now we have two important home games that we want to take care of in the best way. We're in a good position. Jozy [Altidore] and Drew [Moor] are ready to, hopefully, be back in the fold.”
Both key players were not available for either Atlanta or Orlando City SC. Altidore has missed the last three matches, while Moor has missed the last five. Their returns will be a welcome boost.
“A good result in Orlando and then a bad result in Atlanta,” summed up Moor of the road trip. “We're ready to put that right. Sometimes when you come away with nothing from a game, it's good to have a quick one to follow it up and Philadelphia will be a good game.”
“They're playing with a lot of confidence,” added Moor. “They'll try to continue to ride that momentum. We need to be ready for it, be prepared for it, match their intensity. It should be a good match.”
The Union began their season with a run of three winless matches, including a defeat in their home opener against TFC, but since then, they've barely skipped a beat, winning six of their next eight and only losing once.
On the heels of a 6-1 win over the New England Revolution last weekend and well rested, they will be eager to return the favour when they come to Toronto.
“They're a good pressing team, energetic, fast,” listed Vanney. “As much as anything, they're very well-connected defensively, they press you quick, try to force turnovers, and they're a good team in transition. They're also a competent team in possession.”
“From the first time we played them, they've continued to grow in their ideas and their philosophy. With each game they're getting more comfortable and have made progress,” continued Vanney. “We have to know what is coming. We've got to do a nice job of managing that, take care of the ball, finding our ways to hurt them, and make sure we take care of transitions and control things.”
Philadelphia have won their last two and are in the midst of an unbeaten run of four matches, where they have outscored their opposition 12-2.
“They're on a roll, they've scored a lot of goals the last couple games,” said Jonathan Osorio. “It's going to be a tough game. They have a lot of belief right now. I'm sure they believe they can come in get a result.”
TFC won the season opener 3-1 in Philadelphia with Michael Bradley scoring a brace and Nick DeLeon adding the cherry in stoppage-time after Marco Fabian pulled one back from the penalty spot and the Union threatened to find an equalizer.
“They were a good team when we played them the first game of season. Our experience, the way we played, took care of that, but they had a lot of chances,” recalled Moor. “They like to play direct, like to run players out of midfield in behind.”
“[Haris] Medunjanin, when he gets on the ball, can play a very nice [pass] with his left foot; they've got some pace. They're a team that is athletic; playing with confidence. If we match their intensity early, keep them quiet, and take the game to them, we'll give ourselves a good chance.”
And the second time one meets an opponent always adds a wrinkle or two.
“[It changes things] a little bit, the fact that they're familiar with us, we're familiar with them,” said Osorio. “But also there have been a few games in between, so it's not the same. Even when you play the same team twice in a row, it's never the same game. Circumstances are different, new players for both teams, but you get from first game the type of ideas each team want to do to win.”
One of those new players, in a way, for the Union is Kacper Przybylko, a 26-year-old German-born, Polish striker who joined the club late last season, only to suffer an injury in training.
Jim Curtin saw enough of the big front-man to re-sign him in the off-season, despite him never playing a minute in MLS. That faith has been repaid as in four appearances this season, Przybylko has scored three goals, enough for second-most on the team, after David Accam, who was just traded to Columbus Crew SC.
“He's a big, strong striker, a very good target player,” said Vanney. “A lot of their best actions come off of transitions, when they're able to find him and play off him. They have runners like [Fafa] Picault, [Alejandro] Bedoya, and [Brenden] Aaronson, guys who will come flying off of that and create issues in the transition.”
“He uses his size in the box, a big target when they get into crossing situations or put balls in, he's shown his capacity to find space in the box and to finish,” continued Vanney. “He's a nice add for them. We've got to make it difficult for them to play off of him and then know where he is when they get into situations where the ball is going to come into the box.”
TFC leads the all-time series with nine wins to the Union's six, another six encounters have ended level. The victory in the season opener was Toronto's fourth straight win in the series – TFC are unbeaten in the last ten regular season meetings, eleven if the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs Knockout Round meeting is included, stretching back to September 2014.
Saturday's match against Philadelphia will be the first of two home matches against other teams battling for dominance at the top of the Eastern Conference at this early point in the season. These are the kind of contests that get the juices flowing.
“Two teams that are ahead of us, even though we've got games in hand,” said Osorio. “Games in hand [only count] if we win them. These two games are important to get back to the top, it's exciting for us.”
That said, the old motto resurfaces.
“The table changes every weekend,” reminded veteran defender Moor. “We'll take it one game at a time. We're not worried about D.C.”
“Right now we're on to Philly, who are right up at the top or close to it,” said Moor. “It'll be a good test for us.”