TORONTO – Preparations for the upcoming season continue apace for Toronto FC.
Monday saw the BMO Training Ground buzzing with the annual marketing day – headshots, promotional video and photography – and the team, after a week back home, will depart for the next phase of preseason in California at UC Irvine in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Having begun with medicals and some fitness work indoors in Toronto, the scene shifted to Florida for some intense double days in warmer climes. That continued back in Toronto, while the players were also afforded some days off with their families before the scene shifts again and focus is put wholly on opening day at the end of the month.
“Right now I'm happy,” said Greg Vanney with the progress he’s seen since the group convened on January 20. “To be fair, I don't love being in [the bubble] on the turf for the last five days. We lose a little bit of momentum that we had going in Florida, but at the same time [the players] have been at home. We can't be in LA or Florida for six or seven weeks straight.”
“A chance to regroup,” he summed up. “We've pushed them physically, but everyone's excited to now start to play games and really get some clear feedback. We're very happy with where we're at.”
With the first game of the MLS regular season – on February 29 away to the San Jose Earthquakes – and no Concacaf Champions League action, TFC are taking a more gradual and thorough approach.
“We're spending a little more time on getting our legs under us, physically getting our right foundation for the season, a slower, more deliberate process to our game-model and how we want to play this year,” explained Vanney. “We're not rushed as much.”
“It doesn't mean I want to not be in Champions League in the future,” he added quickly. “But we're going to take it as it is and use the time wisely. I feel like the group is, in some ways, a little bit further along because of the continuity from last year to this. The process has been very good and the guys have been really engaged.”
Missing out on the 2020 edition of the continental championship, having lost to the Montreal Impact in a penalty shootout, is still in the air with the tournament’s Round of 16 getting underway on February 18.
“We will always want to be there. The players always want to be there – we have players who are motivated to compete on the international level, at the Champions League level – that's something that will always be a part of the DNA here,” said the coach. “In a season like this where we don't have it, we'll prepare ourselves to be ready for the first game of the season to the last game. We want to be consistent this year, we want to be in the Supporters’ Shield race, we want every game to be important, and we'll take our time to set ourselves up.”
That consistency Vanney mentioned was reinforced last week when it was announce that Quentin Westberg, who joined the club last season, had signed a new contract.
He is one of the 24 players on the roster that were a part of last year’s squad, though that is not to say there isn’t any fresh blood in the group.
TFC signed a trio of homegrown players – Rocco Romeo, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, and Jayden Nelson – before leaving for Florida and alongside a plethora of TFC II players in this first portion of preseason have been two of players selected in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft: Ajax, Ontario-native Nyal Higgins and Danish defender Simon Waever.
The numbers will begin to be trimmed, but the other two draft picks, Malick Mbaye and Ifunanyachi Achara, are set to rejoin the group in LA after setbacks during the Orlando camp.
“Malick came in, was working on his fitness and playing a little bit and unfortunately he took a little bit of a strain, so mostly were rehabbing him and getting him fit. He's going to meet us again in Los Angeles,” explained Vanney. “Achara got ill, he had the flu, so we didn't want him around the team at the time because everybody's kind of in the same space. He ended up starting to get better towards the end of the camp, it didn't make sense to fly him in in that moment so we've sent him our expectations in terms of fitness work and everything else. He will meet us, likewise, in Los Angeles.”
A few days after arriving in LA, Toronto will meet up with some old friends for the first preseason game when they face the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, February 8.
Headed by former Assistant Coach Robin Fraser, Drew Moor, Clint Irwin, and Nicolas Benezet are all on the Rapids roster for the upcoming season.
A pleasant start to 2020.
“I've been texting back and forth with Robin,” said Vanney in anticipation of the first of two meetings between the two this preseason – they will play again on February 22 at Dignity Health Sports Park. “He's trying to to establish with his group what their parameters are and how they want to play; same for us, it's our first game.”
“One part is to see where we are physically, to see how much we really need to push. And two: see some of the things that we've been working on, how well we're going to utilize those and how much we adapt to what they're doing in the game,” outlined Vanney. “It's just an assessment. I don't even know if they put their first guys on or whatever. We'll go there really focused on ourselves and what we've been trying to accomplish. We're just trying to get ourselves ready for what's a long season.”