TORONTO – From the frying pan into the fire.
Fresh off a derby win over the Montreal Impact last weekend and a good week of training, Toronto FC are braced for an away match to a ground that has not been kind in the past: Gillette Stadium.
TFC head to the Foxborough, Massachusetts on Saturday to face the New England Revolution, another of the teams they’re battling for playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
“It was a good week,” said Michael Bradley on Friday. “We feel good about the way things went against Montreal. And now we’ve got to make sure we continue things in all ways against New England.”
With the full squad assembled and healthy, Greg Vanney is pleased with what he has seen throughout the week: “The mentality and the intensity of the training sessions, the engagement, building off the things we did well in the last game and continuing to look forward.”
“It’s a very different opponent with New England,” contrasted the coach. “More aggressive, both in how they defend, but also the speed in which they’re capable of attacking. Make our adjustments, nuances as we try to go there and pick up points. We’re in a good spot, the guys are really pushing and going hard.”
Saturday’s match, the first of seven remaining on the season, will close the month of August for Toronto and with New England a point ahead of them in the standings, it is not only a chance to collect three points, but one to deny them to a direct competitor.
Though their form has cooled a little in recent weeks – they enter having won just one of their last four matches, a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday – in the Revolution, TFC will be facing one of the form teams in the league through the back-half of the campaign.
Toronto won the previous meeting 3-2 at BMO Field way back in March, but that was before Bruce Arena took over the managerial duties from Brad Friedel in mid-May, following a 5-0 loss away to the Fire.
They would win their next game under Mike Lapper as interim coach, kicking off an unbeaten run that stretched 11 matches up to a home loss to LAFC as August began.
Add in that a trip to Gillette has rarely gone Toronto’s way – the Revolution have won the last three and are unbeaten in seven at home dating back to an August meeting in 2013 where Matias Laba scored the game’s only goal – and the Reds know they’re in for a battle this weekend.
“They’re always a good team at home, that’s been a standard of theirs for years,” said Vanney. “It’s a difficult place to play, the turf is unique. For us, we just haven’t gone there and performed at a high level – that’s going to change this weekend, I’m sure.”
“I don’t think we’ve played our best soccer there yet,” continued Vanney. “That’s one of the things we’re focused this time around: understanding the circumstances, being pragmatic about how we manage the turf and the day, play smarter soccer and stay collective. They’ve always had athletic teams, teams that hurt you, especially if you make mistakes. This team is no different.”
Added Bradley: “They’re on a very good run, but this time of year you have to be ready to deal with all different types of games, all different circumstances. We understand that going to New England, playing on the turf, against a good team, it will be a difficult match, but it’s a match we’re looking forward to.”
Spanish midfielder Carles Gil leads the side with nine goals and 12 assists on the season, but newcomer Gustavo Bou, who arrived from Club Tijuana as a designated player in July is hot on his heels. In seven matches, the Argentine forward already has five goals and an assist, the same output as Teal Bunbury, their next highest scorer, who is listed as ‘out’ for Saturday’s match.
“He’s been a very good signing, there’s no two ways about it,” levelled Bradley of Bou. “His ability to get goals, he’s strong, he works, is a guy that can play with others. He’s a guy that we have to make sure we’re making the game hard on.”
It is his mobility and timing that Vanney highlighted: “He’s very good at pulling off back-line and arriving into the box, so it’s going to be one of those where we’ve got to know where he is.”
“You can’t make mistakes – last game he pounced on a mistake, and he can finish with his right-foot, his left-foot, his head; he’s got a lot of ways to hurt you,” he warned. “It’s going to be a collective thing: be aware at all times, eliminate service as much as we can, and take care of the ball, not allow them to get into transitions and counterattacks where they can build some momentum and speed.”
Saturday is the first of three-straight road matches for Toronto as next weekend sees them travel to face FC Cincinnati before swinging by New York City to play NYCFC on September 11.
Robin Fraser will return to BMO Field on September 15 with the Colorado Rapids, but then Toronto hits Los Angeles, to meet LAFC, and Chicago to face the Fire on successive weekends before closing the season at home against Columbus Crew SC on October 6, Decision Day.
Toronto are undaunted by the task at hand.
“I don’t think we’ll change our style, it’s more about our mentality,” said Justin Morrow. “These are hard places to get points at. Since I’ve been here, I don’t think we’ve taken many points at New England, one of the toughest places to play in the league. We have to understand that going in.”
“Not just in New England, but in all these away matches,” added Morrow. “We’re going to have to fight through some adversity to get points and we need points.”
With everything on the line, Drew Moor, as experienced as the come with the cauldron of MLS playoff qualification, stressed: “Mental toughness, that’s going to be key for us.”
“That we go in, start the game well and make it all about us. Play our game, be difficult to play against, take our chances when we get them. Don’t worry about who we’re playing. Go and be mentally strong, do whatever it takes to get the three points.”