TORONTO – When it rains, it pours.
That has been the sentiment in Toronto of late. After a brief glimpse of summer, the wet weather has been back in force.
For Toronto FC that manifested itself most recently in Sunday's loss against the San Jose Earthquakes, a defeat which extended the current winless streak to five matches, where once more execution in each box – the concession of soft goals and not making the most of chances – was at the forefront.
Add in injury concerns over Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, and Auro Jr., just as Drew Moor and Jozy Altidore return, and there is a feeling that enough is enough.
“It's really frustrating, but it's a collective matter: little details all around the field that we need to sort through,” said goalkeeper Quentin Westberg after training on Tuesday. “It's really close, it's right there. We need to stay positive, keep doing what we do really well and then just be a little more alert.”
Westberg referred to the French version of the opening proverb: “Bad stuff always happens when you're not in that great vibe.”
“We cannot allow ourselves to be in that state of mind,” continued the goalkeeper, stressing instead, “being very positive and knowing that we have a lot of strength in this team and it will smile.”
“It's always like this in soccer, you do one thing wrong and you get punished,” said Westberg. “It's just believing in our ability to control and manage the game, defending a little better and show more aggressiveness. It's right around the corner.”
Greg Vanney sees his side responding to the challenge.
“If history is any indication, guys want to take on a lot of responsibility, want to help turn things around,” said the coach. “The turnaround here is just collectively doing our work a little bit cleaner and a little bit better, especially a little more quality in our final action, a little more concentration and detail in the defending action.
“Performance-wise, over a course of games, you always have good games and not so good games, but games are decided by those moments. It's staying true to the task, staying true to the things that we're doing,” added Vanney. “I like the idea of guys wanting to take responsibility, we just have to do it in a collective, efficient way.”
With the team departing for Friday's match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC, the main focus, “is on ourselves, taking care of the small details to make a loss turn into a tie, or a tie into a win,” according to Westberg.
“Focusing on doing well what we need to do, emphasizing our playing ability, and be stronger in key areas like both boxes,” he stressed. “We know Vancouver is a good opponent, but right now our focus is on ourselves.”
They will do so with Alejandro Pozuelo available for selection having served his suspension against the Earthquakes.
“I'm very excited. I want to play, I feel good,” said Pozuelo, thankful, in a way, for the extra rest. “It's good for me because I played a lot of games.”
“We need to play with confidence, to play in attack without [fear]. We need to have personality,” urged Pozuelo. “We know [we've lost] points, but we have confidence because at home with D.C. [United, a 0-0 draw] we had a lot of chances to win the game and at home on Sunday [against San Jose] also we had a lot of opportunities. We need to be calm, it's only 13 games, we have a lot of games in front.”
Vanney expects a rejuvenated Pozuelo: “A little bit of rest will have done him well.”
“It's been a whirlwind since he's arrived,” continued Vanney. “Also just the hunger to get back out on the field. He's a guy who loves to play the game; he's going to be looking forward to making something happen.”
Standing in their way come Friday will be Vancouver, who enter unbeaten in three matches and with one loss in their last seven after a slow start that saw them lose three straight and go winless through six.
In their first season under Marc Dos Santos, the Whitecaps have been rebuilding from near-scratch after the departure of Carl Robinson last September.
“They're in a process, going through that transition,” observed Vanney. “They struggled a little bit at first, found some common ground, common themes that are working for them now. That's MLS, you'll have your good weeks and tough stretches. They found some stability.”
“Our goal is to take advantage of what we think we can and throw that off,” suggest Vanney. “They're going through that evolution now, but you can tell they have confidence, they're working hard, working towards a common theme of protecting their goal, and they're giving themselves a chance to come away with an outcome each week.”
Fredy Montero leads the side with four goals and two assists, while former TFC defender Doneil Henry and midfielder Lucas Venuto have two apiece. But perhaps more interestingly, has been their goal-scoring by committee – 11 different players have found the back of the net for the Whitecaps this season.
Having taken draws away from trips to Sporting KC and the New York Red Bulls in recent weeks, Ali Adnan, with a screamer no less, and Venuto provided the goals in a 2-1 home win over FC Dallas on Saturday.
“They're committed; they make things difficult: get numbers in front of goal, protect their goal well and have been able to capitalize,” said Vanney. “For us, in a lot of these games, it's been a tale of the two 18s.”
“When we get into dangerous positions, we've got to make more of our opportunities. If we can do that against [Vancouver], we can score goals. We'll be able to create chances, we've always been able to,” explained Vanney. “On the defensive side, it's being reliable through all moments of the game. That means, in and around our box, making sure that we are defending and dealing with players who are in front of the goal, preventing crosses wherever possible, playing every play and making sure that we're reliable in every play. The formula isn't any different, it's just executing in those key areas.”
Throw in that this will be the first match this season against Canadian opposition and this trip to BC Place would be as good a time as any to get back in the win column.
“We enjoy the Canadian rivalries,” said Vanney of facing Vancouver. “It's always special when we play them at our place and when we go to their place, it's going there, playing on the turf in their stadium.”
“We have to be ready to accept that it's going to be a grind and the game is a little bit different,” added Vanney. “We've got to be up for those challenges. [Have] a mentality of sticking to it, being ready to battle through it.”
Vancouver won the only league meeting last season, handing Toronto a 2-1 defeat at BMO Field in October, in some ways a fatal blow to any post-season aspirations. But TFC dispatched the Whitecaps en route to a third-straight Voyageurs Cup, beating them by a 7-4 aggregate scoreline in the final of the 2018 Canadian Championship.
In MLS play, Friday will mark the tenth meeting all-time, with both sides winning four each and a single draw. Of note, the visiting team has won the last four contests.
On a positively dreary day in Toronto, Pozuelo smiled when told of Vancouver's reputation as a beautiful city on the eve of his first visit, responding: “They say also good weather.”