TORONTO – The MLS regular season and qualification for the Final of the Canadian Championships continues on Saturday night in Vancouver.
Toronto FC traveled across the country on Friday for their fifth match in the all-Canadian series, primed for a third clash with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Having taken wins in both previous matches at BMO Field, Greg Vanney isn’t concerned by the 1-0 loss against the Montreal Impact on Tuesday that ended the unbeaten run and added a wrinkle to these final two matches.
“At the end of the day we have to go and just be us,” said the coach. “Play the way we set ourselves up to play.”
TFC currently tops the three-team table with nine points from four matches whereas the Whitecaps are all but eliminated having lost all three – the Impact have six from three matches. Not that that will change anything in Vancouver’s approach.
“I don't think they're a team that's going to go way outside of who they are,” forecast Vanney. “They're still settling into who they are, the coach has made that very clear that they're still working on their style of play and their vision for their group and how they're going to be successful.”
Marc Dos Santos took over the club in November 2018 and has been in the process of an extensive rebuild. A tough season last year has only been compounded by further changes and the circumstances that have hampered all sides this season.
Renovating the foundation is laborious, it requires patience and consistency.
“I imagine they'll still play in whatever that [vision] is, to try to set that in stone for them. I don't think that they'll play this game just trying to get a result for the sake of the Canadian Championship,” suggested Vanney. “He's trying to build something long term and understands that the vision of what they're trying to do is probably bigger and more important than just one game or the Canadian Championship.”
“That would be my take just listening to him talk and understanding that the culture is bigger than anything and you’ve got to establish that culture before you're going to win anything,” he continued. “Marc understands that. I would assume that they'll come out and they'll try to play in a way that best suits them and best suits their path forward.”
“It’s been such a start-stop season for everyone and them included, especially with the number of guys they weren't able to get down to Orlando, that this is a bit of a reset,” Vanney added. “And they'll try to start to establish again the vision for themselves.”
The interruptions this season have left all teams in a similar position, trying to build some momentum in the face of such uncertainty.
Toronto is no different.
While this run of six matches has been well and good, it has not been an ideal way to catch up on the months lost and prepare for whatever lies ahead.
“Our days of actual training are limited,” lamented Vanney of the congested schedule. “It's mostly recovering guys and then trying to have a one-day prep for whoever is next.”
“The guys who haven't played a ton have been getting training sessions in for those other days,” he continued. “We have a larger group that we've kept together during this stretch so that when nine or ten guys are out because they're recovering from the last game we can still get a substantial training session in for the others to try to keep everybody fit and sharp.”
The Montreal loss was a blow in more ways than one.
Michael Bradley left the game late following a tackle from Emanuel Maciel that initially saw a red card produced, only for the referee to change his decision to yellow with the aid of the VAR and a sideline monitor.
On Thursday, Vanney announced that an MRI confirmed the captain had suffered a grade 2 MCL strain and would be out for “a little while – weeks, not months.”
Vanney also said that Richie Laryea was nearing a return, while Patrick Mullins was still on the mend.
Adding to that, what lays beyond this all-Canadian portion of the season with the clock ticking and the borders still closed remains unclear.
Roll with the punches.
TFC will close out this series of matches with a third match against the Impact on Wednesday at Stade Saputo.
A quirk in the schedule has Toronto playing all six matches before Montreal and Vancouver meet in their final two with back-to-back games in British Columbia on Sunday September 13 and Wednesday September 16.
If these strange days have taught anything, it is to put in the work when one can. Worry about the future when it comes.
Regardless of everything else going on, the game remains the same.
“We're going to try to build off of us and build off of what we do, in the vision for ourselves, and the things that we've been able to accomplish in the last few games from a performance standpoint and we're going to try to improve in the game,” said Vanney. “The result will be the net outcome of what we do on the field versus what they do on the field and who executes better.”