On the heels of Wednesday’s 1-0 deficit from the first leg of the Canadian Championship Final away to the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC goes from the proverbial frying pan into the fire.
A visit to one’s rival in a cup final is a spicy affair; there is no better way to follow it up than with a trip out to Los Angeles, California to face the hottest team in the league: LAFC.
Greg Vanney travelled a larger than usual side to Montreal for the midweek match, intent on keeping the group together, and was able to ration minutes out to key players.
That the Voyageurs Cup will be awarded on Wednesday back at BMO Field is in the back of the mind, but Vanney and TFC have made it their aim to go after each and every game the same.
“Everyone is good,” said Vanney on Friday prior to the match. “Today was nice and light. We found a place nearby the hotel, so we weren’t on a bus for three hours in LA traffic. The guys feel pretty fresh.”
Wednesday’s defeat halted an all-competitions unbeaten run at nine matches, but in league play, TFC have not lost since the start of August, a stretch of seven games. On the road in MLS, the team is unbeaten in four – at this time of year, every point, no matter how it is acquired, seems extra valuable.
A match against the league-leaders, on the verge of clinching the Supporter’s Shield and aiming to write their names in the record books, will be good preparation for what lies ahead: the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Toronto has not yet clinched a spot, but the scenarios with which they will are starting to come into view.
And Saturday will have the added subplot of a family affair with the Bradleys facing off, son Michael leading his TFC against father Bob’s LAFC.
“A lot,” summed up goalkeeper Quentin Westberg succinctly, when asked what he expected from this weekend’s opponent. “They’re the best team in MLS, they’ve proven a very consistent team, gifted individually and a strong side collectively. These are the best games to play.”
Top of the West, LAFC need eight points from their final four matches to set a new all-time mark; with a goal-difference of +44 they are challenging that mark as well.
“They’re a very strong attacking team, very aggressive in how they press behind the attacks,” said Vanney. “They’re trying to dictate the momentum of the game, the speed of the game through their aggressive play.”
“We need to take care of the ball, make sure that we are sturdy defensively, close things off, take care of the players they have that can make a difference,” emphasized Vanney. “It’s important that as a team we play well.”
Carlos Vela leads the way with 28 goals and 15 assists in 27 appearances, breaking Sebastian Giovinco’s 2015 record for most goals and assists in a single season – Giovinco had 38 combined, a mark Vela reached mid-August.
“We all know his quality,” said Westberg. “We’re going to give him the respect he deserves, but our focus is not on him or another individual, it’s on the whole team and on us mostly.”
He is backed up by Diego Rossi (15 goals, six assists) and Adama Diomande (eight goals, seven assists), though the latter will not be available on Saturday.
The two teams have met just once all-time, a 4-2 LAFC win at BMO Field last September that saw both Vela and Rossi strike – Vela twice, actually, Lee Nguyen chipped in as well, while Jozy Altidore scored both for TFC.
Toronto will be squaring off against a former Red with Steven Beitashour a valuable contributor for LAFC.
It will be TFC’s first visit to Banc of California Stadium, a venue where LAFC have been dominant this season with a record of 11 wins, one loss, and two draws – the only defeat coming on September 1 when Minnesota United FC won there 2-0.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Vanney of his first visit. “From what I see on television, it’s an exciting venue: the crowd is very much involved, loud, and there’s a great atmosphere to play. I suspect an intense environment on the field, from LAFC, but also the fans.”
Curiously, LAFC are winless in two at home (the Minnesota loss and a 3-3 draw in the derby against the LA Galaxy) and in four overall (draws away to Orlando City SC and the Philadelphia Union most recently).
Playing their fifth of seven games in quick succession, TFC are up for the challenge.
“It’s a big streak of games, but it’s the best,” smiled Westberg. “It’s great to be on the field, great games, it’s exciting. Who could ask for more?”