A week on from opening the MLS regular season with a defeat against CF Montreal, Toronto FC are back on the pitch for the second game of the campaign.
TFC will face Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday afternoon at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida – their home opener in these displaced times.
Chris Armas wasted no time weighing excuses or licking wounds following disappointment.
“We quickly got back to work,” said the coach during Thursday’s pre-match conference call. “It was us understanding what's ahead – lots of games coming up – everyone will be relied upon.”
“Just getting back to our basics and all the little things that, even in that game, we did well and then in areas that we have to get more on the same page,” he continued. “We didn't harp on anything specifically in terms of losing the match because in reality a few plays get away from us early and on a day when the margins were thin it made it harder to put it on our terms. Just a ‘back to work’ mentality, cleaning up and clarifying little details so we can keep every day taking small steps forward together.”
Armas said all he needed to immediately after the Montreal game.
“We know that last week wasn't good enough,” echoed Alex Bono. “We don't make excuses on this team – that's something that Chris has stressed to us. Champions League and short turnaround.... We don't do that, that's our attitude now. Chris has instilled in us that no matter what the situation is, no matter who is on the field, we're going to go for it.”
“We know that we're better than that, we've shown that we're better than that already,” he continued. “We're still learning as we go, learning Chris's system, still trying to adapt to it, but you've seen the benefits it has. We focused on us this week. We know that it’s about us. We know that we're good enough to play with any team, no matter who they are or where it is. That's the focus: if we play to the best of our ability and do the things that we're game-planning, then no one can handle us.”
Toronto will welcome back some reinforcements from the injury list.
“It's been nice to see Osorio moving well, in full training, Jozy Altidore back in the mix, and other guys are really close – Tsubasa Endoh full training,” listed Armas. “We're getting stronger by the day and options are always what the coach wants. We're getting to a good place.”
Saturday kicks off a busy period for the club.
Next Tuesday the first leg of their Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal series against Cruz Azul is scheduled with the second leg set for a week later in Mexico City at Estadio Azteca.
That match will be the first of six during the month of May. A mouth-watering series of fixtures that will see TFC square off against some tasty MLS opposition: two games against Columbus Crew SC, one each against the two New York sides – Armas’ former club the Red Bulls and NYCFC – and a temporary derby against their Exploria Stadium roommates Orlando City SC.
But before all that comes Vancouver, feeling good after a 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers on Sunday.
“Like against Montreal, there's history, there's the Canadian bragging rights, and it's early in the season, there's so much enthusiasm and optimism, that, before any X's and O's, is so much a part of it. It's a competition,” underlined Armas. “We have to understand that, there’s an intensity that's different.”
“Against Portland they showed how they're dangerous on set pieces and in transition. They are a very organized, well-coached team. Both sides of the ball they're on the same page, I see a togetherness that is strong and there's some momentum building in their camp,” he detailed. “They put Portland in a really difficult game and had lots of moments of controlling things and they created a lot of chances.”
“[Lucas] Cavallini is always dangerous. [Cristian] Dajome, [Deiber] Caicedo, these guys are a handfuls,” Armas added. “We're understanding them pretty well right now and we'll have our plan going in.”
In his third season at the helm, Marc dos Santos will be looking for his side to build on last weekend’s result.
“It's a new season, we don't have a ton of film on them yet, but looking at that game they're pretty direct, they're good on set pieces, they're compact and organized defensively,” anticipated Bono. “They're a good team and on top of that is that they're another Canadian rival.”
“[There’s] only three of us and we get to play the other two in our first two games of the season, what’s better than that?” he asked. “It's a Canadian rivalry and every time we play any of these teams, everyone's up for it. We want to be the best team in Canada every single year without question. That takes a hit last week and now we have a chance to rebound and show the country and the league that that was a fluke. That that's not us. We have another gear, we're better than that.”
In recent years, TFC are no strangers to playing on the road for extended periods of time. There were the two seasons when upgrades to BMO Field meant long starts away from home. And last season has prepared them well for the uncertainty of this.
Saturday is a ‘home opener,’ but not really.
It’s not the typography change of ‘at’ to ‘vs.’ that makes the difference.
“The people behind the scenes for our club are working to make it as normal as possible, but the reality of it is that large parts of it will not feel normal,” said Bono. “I've been to six TFC home openers in my time here and this is by far the furthest from normality.”
“But listen, it's a new season, it's a new ‘home opener,’ however you want to put it. We've done this away from home before so it's just another game for us. Yes, special, but it’s just another game,” he continued. “We've had to deal with this coming on almost a year now playing away from home. It's different, it's difficult, but at the end of the day it's just another game.”
“And whether it's home or away, we're learning to just take it as a game until we're fortunate enough to come back and play in our home city, in front of our home fans,” Bono closed. “Just a game. No home, no away; fans, no fans. It's all going to feel different from the normality of BMO Field and our home support.”
Added Armas: “For me, my home opener is going to be back when we're with our supporters. That's going to feel like the home opener when we're back in Toronto, back in town, celebrating and going after it together.”
“I haven't put much thought into that this is my official home opener. We're going to make it our home for a bit, but it's not how I'm looking [at it],” he continued. “It's more get right back on track and get the result, get the three points, and then we start really making humid weather, hot weather, the pitch at Exploria, our comfort zone away from home. That's what we'll be about, three points on Saturday.”