TORONTO, Canada—Greg Vanney believes his team deserves more credit.
Following The Reds’ second-straight defeat, a 1-0 loss to New York City FC Wednesday evening, the Toronto FC head coach was asked about his team’s goal-scoring woes by yours truly. Before I could fully finish the question, however, it appeared that Vanney was ready to jump to the defence of his squad.
“Guys, guys, guys,” started a rarely-animated Vanney. “Honestly, we’re scoreless in two games, right? The core of our attacking group is not healthy. We’re working hard as a group. We didn’t get the effort and representation of ourselves as a group that we wanted in Philadelphia. That was evident. We lift our hand and say ‘we weren’t there on that night, that happened.’ We’re allowed to have that over the course of the 19 games in the crap that we’ve been through. We’re allowed to have a bad night. We had a bad night—so end it. Tonight, the guys worked their asses off...”
To an extent, the Toronto FC coach was right.
First-choice strikers Jozy Altidore, Ayo Akinola—and you can even throw Achara into that mix—haven’t been available of late due to injury. Neither has Pablo Piatti, Jonathan Osorio, Marky Delgado, or Chris Mavinga. The team is also playing away from their families—away from home—amid a global pandemic, and I can’t stress enough the toll in which that must take on one’s mental and physical well-being.
And still, the Reds have found a way to carry the second-best record in MLS into their second last matchday of 2020. They even had a fighting chance against a surging New York City FC side despite missing six of their best 12-13 players. On a macro level, considering everything that the team has had to endure in this grueling year, that’s a win on its own.
But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t reason for concern with the team’s ultimate goal, the MLS Cup Playoffs, just three weeks away, especially when you consider the club’s recent form. The Reds are scoreless in their last two and haven’t scored more than one goal in a game in their last six outings, meaning a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union back on Oct. 3 was the last time the team managed to find the back of the net more than once.
“We had chances, we didn’t finish them,” said Vanney on Wednesday. “Our chances tonight, most of them came from our left back who is usually our left back. That’s where we’re at right now... We’re trying to get healthy...”
That’s obviously the biggest concern from a Toronto FC perspective: getting players back. While Osorio, Mavinga, and Akinola appear to be close to all making a return—Mavinga was an unused substitute yesterday—the same can’t be said of Piatti (calf), Altidore (hamstring), and Delgado (leg/hip).
Piatti and Altidore are both recovering from Grade 2 strains and are likely still a few weeks away. Both players hope to be ready for the team’s first postseason game Nov. 20, but only time will tell. Delgado, meanwhile, who left Saturday’s game against Phili at half time, was scheduled to undergo a second MRI at some point on his leg/hip area according to Gareth Wheeler. A timetable for his return has not yet been set for the hard-working midfielder, but having to undergo a second MRI is a worrying sign.
With a pair of games left to play, the club isn’t officially out of the Supporters’ Shield race quite yet—three points back and behind on goal differential—but at this point, the team’s priority may have shifted from where it was a week ago.
“For the short term … anybody you lose at this point you’re probably going to lose for the playoffs,” said Vanney, when asked about race at the top of table. “So, there’s always that as a Catch 22. We’re trying to work with our doctors. We are trying to work with everybody that’s involved to try to make the best decisions for our guys...”
One thing that hasn’t wavered, however, is the coach’s belief in his squad if they do get some bodies back into the mix.
“If we get our guys healthy, we’re confident about what we’re capable of doing,” wrapped up Vanney. “It’s just where we are. I don’t understand why people don’t recognize that’s where we are? We need to get our team back together and we’ll take anyone—anyone that wants to come along—we’ll play anyone. And that’s where we’re at right now, and that’s what we’re fighting to get back to. Our group is working their tails off. They put up with a lot of crap this year.
“We’re going to fight to get ourselves back healthy, and we’re going for the trophy at the end of the day. That’s what we’re going to do. Any more questions? Thank you.”