TORONTO – Back from the break, another busy period lies ahead.
Toronto FC return from their two-week hiatus to another gauntlet of difficult matches. The club will play four games over the next fortnight beginning with Saturday's away match against FC Dallas.
They return home for a Wednesday night clash against Atlanta United FC at BMO Field then hit the road for a further pair: Saturday, June 29 at D.C. United and Thursday, July 4 at LA Galaxy.
“We all feel ready to go,” said Drew Moor of the mood amongst the group. “The down week is always nice to recharge a bit.”
“It was still a very focused week. We had a couple days off, but we're up here most of the time preparing for an important stretch coming up starting with Dallas,” continued Moor. “We're missing some guys, so it's been important for everybody to step up and take ownership. It's been a very spirited two weeks of training.”
Toronto will be without the quintet of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Jonathan Osorio, Ashtone Morgan, and Noble Okello, who are away with their international sides at the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup.
“Good spirits, good energy,” assessed Greg Vanney of his charges. “Ready to play, ready to get back on the field and compete.”
The four match stretch will see TFC play some of the top sides in both conferences. Having entered the break with a pair of draws against Sporting KC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Vanney wants to his side continue to progress after salvaging points in each of those ties.
“It's important we take the points as we can, continue to build off of things that we've been doing well the last couple games,” said Vanney. “We created really good chances last game, we need to try to finish those off. We played solid defense, not giving up much, goals on PKs.”
“This is a challenging time of year for everybody with the amount of events going on, people away,” continued Vanney. “It's going to be hot as heck in Dallas. You've got to play smart, play a good style, take care of the ball, not make silly mistakes, and take advantage of the moments you can create against the opposition.”
Dallas enter unbeaten in two with a draw away to the San Jose Earthquakes and a win over Seattle Sounders FC, putting an end to a six-match winless run.
A trio of players – Paxton Pomykal, Edwin Cerrillo, and Brandon Servania – have return from the FIFA U-20 World Cup with the US side, but Reggie Cannon, Carlos Gruezo and Bryan Acosta remain on international duty with the USA, Ecuador, and Honduras, respectively, at the Gold Cup and Copa America.
Vanney anticipates that those absences will only increase what has been a trend at Dallas since Luchi Gonzalez, their former academy director, took over the first team managerial reins from Oscar Pareja at the conclusion of last season.
“They'll be young, energetic, ambitious,” forecast Vanney. “Typically they start the games off pretty aggressive, try to press and create opportunities in their turnovers. If we do a good job of managing that then they'll drop in, sit in a low block, try to protect their goal. And when they do that, they have guys like [Michael] Barrios and [Jesus] Ferreira, who can really break out in the transition.”
Dallas won last season's only encounter 1-0 at BMO Field on an early strike from Max Urruti and won 3-1 at home in 2017 on a brace from Roland Lamah with Urruti adding the third, Marky Delgado scored for Toronto.
“The last couple times we've played them, that's been their game: protect themselves and break out. It seems to have been the formula that has worked for them against us. We have to not make silly mistakes, but also make sure that organized in the transition,” cautioned Vanney. “They have some interesting young players, who are dynamic, active, and busy and can create problems, but then they also have some guys, like Barrios, who has been around, has experience, quality, and can get out in transition, take people on, run with space.”
Barrios has two goals and five assists, while Reto Ziegler has three, but 18-year-old forward Ferreira leads the side with four goals and two assists. That name should be familiar to long-time MLS watchers, as he is the son of former Dallas maestro David Ferreira.
“He's a busy player, active, goal-dangerous, always looking for seams and gaps and places to run,” detailed Vanney. “Technically he has quality. He's got a nice frame, still filling out, but good for what he does.”
“Between he and Pomykal – they're two that combine well – they've played a lot together within the academy and the various levels there. Those young guys have a good relationship with each other coming through the ranks,” said Vanney, mentioning two of the six homegrown players on Dallas' roster. “They're all talented. We've got to make sure we don't underestimate the fact that they're younger and have less experience, they're all still have dangerous qualities and can make a difference.”
A match in Dallas is particularly welcome for Moor, one of its native sons: “I love going back there to play. Family is always there, friends are always there. I was at their inaugural match back when they were the Dallas Burn in 1996 in the Cotton Bowl. It's always special to go back and play there, most importantly go back and win there.”
This four-game period will see TFC into July, where an additional four matches await. August sees another five before September and October round out the 2019 regular season with the remaining six games. It is these next 13 that see the start of the traditional summer grind, where seasons are made and lost.
“Probably, probably,” smiled Moor, asked if the grind has begun. “It's actually starting to warm up up here as well, so it feels a bit like summer the last couple days.”
“The summer grind is real in MLS. This will be my 15th time to deal with it. It's always the same, but it's always different,” explained Moor. “It's always a grind, always important. If you get through the summer, manage it well, get points anywhere you can, then you come out the other side in good position and get ready for those cooler months to really start going.”
“This is an important time for us,” added Moor. “We're all in it together and ready to go after it.”