TORONTO – The homestand continues.
Toronto FC will look to extend their winning streak to three matches on Saturday night when they welcome the Houston Dynamo to BMO Field.
A 2-0 derby win away to the Montreal Impact on Saturday led into a 3-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls back home come Wednesday night. TFC have won three of their last five matches, losing just once over that stretch.
“Good for the mentality, for confidence,” said Greg Vanney of the current run. “The guys understand how much they put into those two games in order to get those results, what it takes in different situations.”
“The summer months are always a grind. It's hot, it's humid, games come fast. You've got to be able to find ways to win games,” continued Vanney. “We played some good soccer, sometimes had to defend well. We've got to continue to be efficient around the goal, clean up a little of our defending work. Winning games is a mentality, it's a mindset, a willingness to do whatever you have to do sometimes, especially in the summer grind of MLS.”
Wednesday was particularly special for Omar Gonzalez, who made his home debut.
“My first match at BMO Field was amazing, especially because we got the win, that always helps,” smiled the defender. “It wasn't a complete performance, but we got three points, did what needed to do. Two games in a row we get wins, we're looking for third one.”
Players love a run of games.
“To be honest,” admitted Gonzalez. “Every player would rather play games than train, so that's good.”
The side will have a full week between the Houston match and the visit of FC Cincinnati next Saturday, something Vanney sees as a benefit.
“We have guys in a lot of different places physically right now – off at the Gold Cup, coming back from injury, a thin roster when guys were away grinding things out,” explained the coach. “I wouldn't mind a little bit of time to train and recover, get everybody back to the same place.”
But for this weekend, the side is content to ride the momentum.
“Back-to-back is nice,” said Marky Delgado. “You can knock them out, got the momentum going for you, but at the same time it's hard on the body. Right now we're all feeling pretty good.”
Houston enters the match on the heels of a heavy midweek defeat away to Atlanta United FC, where an early red card to Alberth Elis saw the Dynamo fall 5-0.
In their third season under Wilmer Cabrera, the Houston started strong unbeaten in the first five, winning six of their first eight matches, but they have struggled in recent weeks, losing their last three, winning just once in their last nine.
That said, form can turn quickly in MLS.
“We're looking at it as the third game this week, looking to get nine points,” summed up Vanney. “Understanding some of their strengths: speed on the wings, [Mauro] Manotas, or whichever striker they will go to, is very mobile, good finishers, very quick, fast team in the attack. So we've got to manage that well, take care of ball.”
“Against a team [playing] their third game of the week, if you can move it quickly, spaces will open up and opportunities will present themselves,” foresaw Vanney. “Continue some of the things we've been doing, continue to be sharper, look at some opportunity for guys to come out fresh and provide a spark for us as well.”
Elis, who will be suspended for the match, leads the side with seven goals and seven assists, while Manotas has an equal number of goals but fewer assists with four. Memo Rodriguez, who has five goals and a pair of assists, missed the Atlanta match and is listed as questionable heading into the weekend.
“It's going to be a pretty tough match-up, especially how their last game ended,” said Gonzalez. “They're going to want to come out strong. They're going to be away from home again, might be more defensive, but who knows, might just go out guns a-blazing. We'll find out.”
Toronto is prepared for whatever Houston brings.
“It can go a couple ways,” generalized Vanney about how a team reacts to a heavy defeat. “It can be frustrating and you can take a hit emotionally.”
“[Or] they'll try to shake it off, turn around, adjust a few guys – a few of their 'starters' didn't play, so they'll slide those guys in,” weighed Vanney. “They'll come out motivated, feel they want to make up for some of that.”
“For us, it's to focus on our play, the things we need to do to keep taking steps forward,” redirected Vanney. “Be willing to sacrifice and work hard like we have the last two games; make sure that we protect our goal when we need to and take advantage of the opportunities we create.”
TFC won the last meeting in Toronto by a 2-0 scoreline in 2017, but the Dynamo won their previous two visits.
Last season's clash, where Houston won 5-1 at home, adds another wrinkle to the equation.
“Last year, we had Concacaf [Champions League], so we had a completely different team out in Houston,” recalled Delgado. “But this time we have our full team and a lot of momentum going our way.”
While most of the first team were in Mexico preparing for the second leg of the CCL final against Chivas de Guadalajara, a youth-laden side travelled to Texas.
“Yeah, we watched it, I remember watching it,” said Delgado. “We were supporting them from Mexico. It wasn't pretty, but it is what it is. We wanted to be there and help them, but we all knew we had a job to do in Mexico.”
Does that sort of thing carry any weight?
“Zero, honestly,” said Vanney. “What's more important for us is that we're home, trying to get another three points, keep closing the gap between us and the top of the East.”