Sunday at Yankee Stadium seems a long time ago. A different world, even. And instead of now looking ahead to another matchup this coming weekend, Toronto FC have a whole lot of waiting to do before their trip to Montreal on November 22.
It’s strange and a perk of MLS’ summer season to have everything put on hold at this late stage, with just four teams still alive in pursuit of the MLS Cup. Toronto would surely have loved to keep their group together and roll into the Eastern Conference final as quickly as possible, such was the manner and margin of their defeat of New York City, but the Impact probably feel the same way.
Instead, they get two weeks in which to plan for each other and neither Greg Vanney nor Mauro Biello will have an excuse for their team looking underprepared. That was never likely; both coaches can be proud of the fine, fine work they have done to get their respective clubs to this point.
More of a potential banana skin might be overpreparedness. Vanney will plan for Ignacio Piatti and Biello will attempt to solve the problem of containing Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, but they must be careful not to overload their players with information in the extra time they have available. At BMO Field, Patrick Vieira made some surprising selection and tactical decisions in a bid to stop Toronto rather than hurt them, and a Reds team given more freedom to play its natural game eventually found its way through the barricade.
“We’ve played Montreal so many times this year that between our two sides we know each other pretty well and we know, I think, the strengths and weaknesses of both of our groups,” Vanney said. “We’ll take as much time as we can to prepare. I think, in soccer, momentum is always a nice thing and to be able to get on the field and play again and build off your last performance is good, but we’ll take this time to heal minor wounds - because nothing’s, so far, too major, knock on wood - and start our preparations.
“The tough part that’s different in soccer to [a bye week in] football is that we lose a few key guys off to international duty - it’s not like we have everybody here - and they’ll lose a few guys to international duty. So you start your preparations a little bit shorthanded but we’ll need to reintegrate those guys. The good thing is the game is on Tuesday which gives us a couple of extra days to allow those guys to recover and focus their attention on our group.”
“There’s more time to think of a good game plan,” Jonathan Osorio said, before correcting himself. “I don’t think it’s more time to think of a game plan, I think it’s more time to practise your game plan, I would say. You get to perfect a couple of things that you want to establish in a game and that’s all it is, you have more time to do that.”
It’s probably wise to expect caution and a defence-first strategy. While an away goal is vital and Toronto must pose a threat, they know they can do so with Giovinco and Altidore on the pitch without having to commit too many men forward. I wondered beforehand whether the disciplined and trustworthy Will Johnson might get the call to start in the second leg against New York; Vanney was absolutely right to stick with Osorio and Armando Cooper, who helped Toronto take the initiative early and put the tie to bed, but with the extra time Johnson now has to get his fitness back up it could be a consideration again.
The break also aids Montreal’s effort to sell a lot of tickets at the Olympic Stadium, which will take over from Stade Saputo for the rest of the Impact’s season. More than 30,000 were snapped up in the first two days after their place in the conference final was confirmed, meaning a capacity crowd of 60,000 is possible.
It will be interesting to see what effect this has, if any. The conventional wisdom, of course, is that the bigger the crowd, the more difficult Toronto’s job, which has been echoed by Montreal players encouraging fans to turn out in numbers. “We need 60,” said Dominic Oduro. “The fans should come out.” Patrice Bernier wants the Big O “full, loud, vibrant, so we can get the result at home”.
The artificial turf won’t help Toronto, either, but it is important to remember this is not Montreal’s home stadium. There are small, but not meaningless, routines and familiarities that will change for the Impact players away from Stade Saputo. For the potential perils of switching venue, looking no further than Tottenham, who have played in front of two excited, highly charged crowds of 85,000 at Wembley in the Champions League this season and lost on both occasions.
In 12 days, its effect will be clear. But for now, all we can do is wait.