TORONTO – The hellacious and much-talked about stretch of matches in the rear-view, focus this week returned to the usual process of preparing for matches as they come.
After a few days off, Toronto FC returned to the usual pattern. Over the next three weeks, the club will play and then have a week, more-or-less, to prepare for the next match. First on the docket is the return of an old foe in a new guise as Matias Almeyda's San Jose Earthquakes come to BMO Field on Sunday.
“We have a unique competitor this week: said this the last time we played against Almeyda's team, Chivas Guadalajara,” noted Greg Vanney on Wednesday in anticipation of the Argentine's arrival. His side bested TFC in the final of the Concacaf Champions League last April and joined San Jose in the off-season.
“They play a pretty unique style: very personal in their marking. So it's a little different preparation than you would have for a normal week, in terms of your vision and what you're trying to accomplish, how you can go about that,” continued Vanney. “In that way, it's a little fresh for the guys to come into this week and have a different approach. There is some freshness out of that.”
With the madness over, for now, there was some spring in the step at training.
“They're just happy to get some rest, some sleep, get their legs under them, feel a little bit fresher,” observed Vanney. “They'll feel stronger having gone through those games because it was the first time this year we've had to go through multiple games in [quick succession]. It's a grind when you go through it, but when you come out of it, you can feel like your fitness level is a little higher, you're a little stronger for those one-off games. The group was light today: excellent, busy, focused.”
Toronto will face San Jose without the services of Alejandro Pozuelo, who will serve his suspension on Sunday having picked up a pair of bookings against Real Salt Lake.
Vanney sees a silver-lining in the playmaker getting the week off: “He'll never admit it – players love to play, want to play all the time, help their team – but this is a good week for him to be able to catch his breath.”
“He came in fast, had an incredible start, which then ramps up the attention and everything else,” continued Vanney. “No matter who it is, everybody goes through a stretch where you have to adapt to the league. You start to learn refereeing, start to learn the physicality, get to know your teammates, the travel is tough. There are different facets that everybody goes through.”
“He's gotten a good sample size of what the league is about,” added Vanney. “Catch his breath and then we start going again, a couple more games, and then we get a little break for the Gold Cup, which will serve him well, as we then look at the summer grind and the last part of the season.”
The 40-man provisional rosters for the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup were released earlier this week and five TFC players were named to their respective squads: Jonathan Osorio, Ashtone Morgan, and Noble Okello for Canada; Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore for the USA.
With the tournament running from June 15 to July 7, there is the potential that players will miss a maximum of five matches, departing for camps after the match away to Vancouver Whitecaps FC on May 31.
There were some notable absences on that list, players who were expected to be called in, but Vanney explained that is part of the discussions that go on between clubs and the associations.
“With Canada we had been in conversations about who they might select, what roles guys might play in that, what that means for our team and what roles they might play if they're not with [Canada],” began Vanney. “We all want to see some of these young players really advance and become viable options for both club and country, so if they're going to play for us, but go and be the eighth man on the bench for them, then it's better if they stay.”
“John [Herdman, Canadian National Team Coach] has been amazing in our conversations about that,” continued Vanney. “We're all on the same page. But then you get some young guys who can learn from the experience of being there, so that's an important piece for them.”
One may have expected the likes of Jay Chapman, Liam Fraser, and Jordan Hamilton to get attention from Canada and Marky Delgado and Alex Bono to be listed for the US, but as Vanney noted: “It doesn't mean he's not in the pool.”
“It probably means he's a very important player for us in during this stretch and maybe not the first or second guy for them. And so if he stays here, it means he's going to play a big role for us, which is good for his development and his future,” expanded Vanney, referring specifically to Chapman. “That's how the discussions work. John has been very understanding because we have the potential to be pretty decimated if they take everybody.”
Unexpectedly, Ayo Akinola will be returning to TFC, as it was announced that he would not be going to the FIFA U-20 World Cup with the US due to an ankle injury.
“It happened in the Atlanta game,” noted Vanney. “It was short-term – he should be starting his progression back, but they felt that his time-line didn't match with theirs, which is gut-wrenching. I know he's been looking forward to this opportunity for a long time and he's been a huge part of qualifying. I feel for him. Hopefully he can find peace in it, move on and look forward, keep working, and aim for the big World Cup.”