TORONTO – The best place to respond to disappointment is on the field.
Toronto FC return to the pitch on Sunday evening when they face the Chicago Fire in the penultimate game of the 2019 MLS regular season.
Having been forced to watch the Montreal Impact lift the 2019 Voyageurs Cup on penalty kicks midweek, TFC shift their focus to what lies ahead. Two matches on successive Sundays will conclude the league campaign and then, following an international break, the 2019 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs get underway.
Toronto enter the weekend having been bounced back to sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings following wins from D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls last Sunday. Getting back into fourth-spot and a home playoff date is the aim.
“It’s a priority,” said Greg Vanney on Friday. “We also want to stay in top form and try to reach another level here in these last couple of games. Continue to play hard, be difficult to play against on the defensive side, and be even more effective on the attacking side.”
“Nothing changes, we don’t want to take foot off the gas,” he stressed. “Keep pressing forward as we finish the regular season and move towards the playoffs.”
Unbeaten in eight league matches, Toronto have found their rhythm since the roster was filled out with the additions of Omar Gonzalez, Nicolas Benezet, and Erickson Gallardo. Now it’s about honing in on the details, at both ends of the pitch.
“We’re very pleased with how we’re playing,” summed up Vanney. “We think there are some margins that we need to push on the finishing end, that final third, where we can be creating a clearer chance or finish the chance. And in some of these games, it’s that one or two defensive moments where we’ve got to stay more concentrated and deal with them better.”
That clarity has been the difference for Quentin Westberg: “We have a lot of certainty in our game, how we play, what we want to do and how we want to perform. That’s always good walking into the last, interesting stretch. The focus is on ourselves, establishing our values in the game.”
Not much needs to change, just tilting the odds in their favour slightly.
“We don’t have to do much different,” said Vanney. “The other night, we won the game, but we didn’t win the championship, which is a problem. But at the same time we were pretty pleased with how we approached the game. We put ourselves in position to get more goals out of the game than we did.”
“We didn’t, which is why I talk about the details in the final third that we’ve got to tighten up,” continued Vanney. “We want to continue to build. The way we’ve been playing we’re a difficult team to beat, now can we push the margins to make sure more of these games look like wins.”
Their opponent on Sunday will be fighting for their playoff lives.
The Fire enter the match in eighth spot, four points behind the New England Revolution, who hold the final berth in the Eastern Conference. They need to win and hope results elsewhere go their way.
“They still have something to hope for, so they’re going to be emotional, give it everything they have,” forecast Westberg. “It’s going to be interesting for us, could be a playoff setup for them, a win-or-die situation. It’s good to be able to work on that for us moving forward.”
Veljko Paunovic’s side is unbeaten in three with draws away to Columbus Crew SC and FC Cincinnati either side of a 4-0 win over FC Dallas at home. They have lost just twice in their last nine matches and have won their last three at SeatGeek Stadium.
C.J. Sapong and Nemanja Nikolic lead the side with 12 goals each, while Nicolas Gaitan has chipped in four and 11 assists.
Toronto is unbeaten through the last ten meetings between the clubs, stretching back to the 2015 season, and have won their last three visits to Bridgeview, Illinois, but Chicago has taken draws in two of the last four.
Vanney expects Chicago to “push the game” initially.
“We’re hitting the seventh [game] in 22 days, coming off a midweek game, they’ll try to see if they can gain any edge early,” anticipated the TFC coach. “As the game progresses, if we’re able to get a hold of the ball then they’ll protect themselves a little bit, play us on the counter.”
“They’re not a team – when they came here they sat on us a touch – in general, they’re not a sitting team. They try to find ways to get out, to get pressure; they’re pretty effective in terms of their transition attacking-wise,” he continued. “They’re going to be trying to get three points, they’ll choose whatever they think is best for them.”
“We’ll be ready for either, which is one of the things we’ve been talking about as a group,” added Vanney. “We have to win games no matter how the game looks. Whether we have the ball, don’t have the ball, we still have to be effective, find the right way to win. That’s what the playoffs look like.”
“Sometimes you run into games or moments where you don’t have the ball and you’ve to be effective defensively and in transitions; sometimes you have the ball and you’ve got to break teams down and find ways to score,” he concluded. “That’s what we’re going to continue to build on in this stretch.”