Toronto FC lost 2-0 to Chicago Fire FC on Wednesday afternoon in Irvine, California in their fifth preseason match as the season opener, away to the San Jose Earthquakes on February 29, fast approaches.
18-year-old Nick Slonina opened the scoring in the 15th minute and Elliot Collier added a second in the 31st minute.
With several expected starters pushed physically towards playing a full 90 on the weekend against the LA Galaxy, Greg Vanney put out a mixed group against Chicago.
The starting XI featured Alex Bono, Richie Laryea, Eriq Zavaleta, Chris Mavinga, Terique Mohammed, Jonathan Osorio, Noble Okello, Alejandro Pozuelo, Jayden Nelson, Griffin Dorsey, and Ayo Akinola.
Rocco Romeo, Adolfo Ovalle, Ifunanyachi Achara, and Jacob Shaffelburg entered at half-time, while Tsubasa Endoh subbed in for Laryea mid-45.
“It's kind of an awkward game,” said Vanney post-match. “We wanted to push some guys, [who] didn't play a lot on the weekend, minutes and then we're trying to reintegrate some guys, some young players. A lot of players in different physical positions right now, so today was really an exercise of getting guys what they needed.”
The Fire took advantage of a disjointed, muddled start.
“Disconnected, in terms of the soccer,” described Vanney. “Not a group that have spent much time together and, most importantly, we started the game slow. They were able to get on top of us in the first half, relatively early. And then we played a little bit frustrated because things weren't clear for us, we weren't in the right spots for each other.”
“Really, it was a day to get guys the things they needed to be prepared for Saturday, which is an important game to get ready for the next Saturday,” he added. “That was today; it was always going to be a little bit awkward.”
TFC will meet the Colorado Rapids on Saturday in their final preseason action before the season opener a week later.
Preseason has seen a measured approach from the club as they build into and through the start of the season. With a larger group of players in California, the coaching staff have broken the matches into different streams: midweek and weekend, each with varied aims.
“The Saturday games we've looked at our collective, our relationships, and how we're building towards the first game, as much as possible,” explained Vanney. “A day like today is to get some of the younger players an opportunity, maybe to play next to a couple of veteran players, but the objectives of the day are slightly different for different players.”
“Because the players are in different places, it's going to be a little bit of a mishmash, but, by the end, it settled in and the guys who were learning are showing some progress.” he noted. “Even in the course of that game we were in better spots, we were recognizing things better. It's a process.”
In preseason, when the days are long and gruelling, training sessions only accomplish so much. Players want games.
“The hard part in preseason is guys put in a lot of work and they need to play games. There was a number of guys out there today who haven't played many minutes,” said the coach. “When everybody is putting in the kind of work that they're putting in, the one thing you want to do is play some games.”
“Even though the game may not fit in the perfect time for the primary group, we still have guys who need to get minutes,” he continued. “A day like day today is important. The overall performance is something that we need to look at. We would want to be better, but more it's about individual decisions, about whether individuals are recognizing certain things at the right times and in the right scenarios. There's a lot of takeaways, but it's more on individuals than on the collective group.”