TORONTO – It’s always nice to be home.
With Saturday’s match and the visit of NYCFC to BMO Field, the home portion of the 2020 campaign will begin for Toronto FC.
The season itself kicked off last weekend with TFC forced to settle for a 2-2 draw late, but any lingering disappointment evaporated as the team trained at the stadium on the shores of Lake Ontario with the anticipation of the home opener building.
“Guys are excited to be home, excited to play another game; disappointed how the last one ended, so excited to get back out there,” said Greg Vanney midweek. “It's always nice to be in the stadium, the field is in good condition – today it was wet so it was zipping nice and fast – and energy is building into the weekend for sure.”
It has been almost five months since TFC last graced the pitch in front of their home fans – a night to remember with a cracking extra time win over Wayne Rooney’s D.C. United in October.
The players can’t wait to get back out there.
“We all love to play at BMO, it’s a special place,” said Quentin Westberg. “Last time we played here was our playoff game, it set us off on the right tone for a decent run.”
“I can speak for myself and tell you I'm really excited,” he added. “I just love to play here, love to play in front of our fans and, hopefully, we deliver.”
Whether relative newcomer or one of the longest serving members of the club, the emotion that playing in front of the red-clad hordes is evident.
“It's exciting to get back into the stadium. Everybody loves being here. Training two days out you do get a little bit excited, focused on the game, imagining the atmosphere that BMO brings,” highlighted Jonathan Osorio. “I expect a great crowd as always. Nights, here at BMO, are always special.”
“We’ve had some great home openers,” he recalled. “We want to make sure this one's another one to remember for the fans.”
The comforts of home are plain, but it comes with a certain demand.
“It's our responsibility to push the tempo of the game. We need to be exciting, but understand that we're home and need to create a fortress, be hard to play against,” balanced Vanney. “It's the atmosphere that the fans create that makes this place special.”
Standing opposite TFC this weekend will be NYCFC, who dropped their season opener last weekend against Columbus Crew SC, losing 1-0 after defender Maxime Chanot was shown a red card just three minutes in.
The New York side may have a new coach in Ronny Deila, but they remain largely the same side.
“I don't think they'll change their identity much,” forecast Vanney, who will be opposite a third different man at the helm of NYCFC in as many years. “They're still a possession-based team, they want to have the ball, they're going to open up the space, they're going to entice you out and try to play through the spaces that open up if you get pulled out.”
“City Group has their style and whenever they look for a manager, it's somebody who fits that, so that's not going to change,” he continued. “There might be a nuance as to how direct they play versus how short, how high they press or how much they sit – coaches might have different variations – but the style of play isn’t going to change.”
“It's also how their team is made, it makes sense for them and they were very successful last year,” Vanney added. “It'll be upon us to stay together, make sure that we don't get pulled apart. On the defensive side, that we're smart, we're accounting for players where they have numbers and then, on the attacking side, taking care of the ball, trying to move them around.”
“I like these games because there's a tactical element that is special whenever we play New York City,” he relished. “These games are always fun and I know the guys look forward to it as well.”
With NYCFC having topped the Eastern Conference by six points last season and expected to be there or thereabouts this, this game is a big one. And they have had a head start, physically at least.
“We know New York has had a few more games under their belt, coming from Champions League, and we know that they'll be ready to go and they'll be on another level,” warned Liam Fraser. “We have the mentality and the engine to be able to step up to that level, really push and compete and win the game.”
Prior to the loss in Columbus, NYCFC navigated their Round of 16 series in the Concacaf Champions League, dispatching Costa Rica side, AD San Carlos by a 6-3 aggregate scoreline.
Fraser and TFC have done their homework.
“Watched them a bit and we did some video, so we have good analysis and good diagnostic of what they're going to bring, ways we can hurt them and ways that we have to be smart to avoid giving up goals and opportunities for them to score,” summed up Fraser. “They want to play. They're a good team. We know what to expect from them. We'll set up out there on Saturday ready to win the game and put on a good show.”
The visitors will have an element of revenge in mind as well.
It was TFC after all that bounced them from the playoffs last year, winning 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinal on the strength of an Alejandro Pozuelo brace, including that stoic chipped penalty kick at the death.
“That's for sure,” quipped Westberg at the prospect. “Toronto is on the map and every single team that's going to come here is going to play their A game. Plus NYCFC, their team is basically the same [like us], they know each other, they have fundamentals. A different year, but same profile teams.”
All told, it will be a timely test for Vanney’s side as they look to pronounce themselves part of the upper echelon of MLS early in the season.
“It's a great time to play a team like New York,” said Vanney. “They require that you’re at the top of your game. It’ll be a good indication of where we are right now, second game of the season. We're going to find out where we are, where we can continue to grow.”
“And this is a team that has all the respect of everybody in that locker room, myself included, and so you're always excited for these games,” he added. “It's going to be how we perform, how we execute, that we'll be able to assess.”