TORONTO, Ont.—It has been a long wait, but football has finally returned for the Reds’ faithful.
For many, the sting of TFC’s championship defeat at the hands of the Sounders has persisted throughout the winter, acting as a grim coda to an equally bittersweet season of football. But, as with the weather, the promise of a new beginning is only ever a few months away.
Toronto FC kicks off their pre-season stint on Saturday against the Colorado Rapids, the first of five games, all of which will be played in California. Saturday’s match, which kicks off at 2 p.m. EST will be played behind closed doors: there will be no stream.
For his part, coach Greg Vanney is—as expected—unwaveringly positive.
“I’m excited,” he said on Media Day for TFC’s training camp in Florida. “You may see one or two additions between now and the start of the season, but in general we have a lot of continuity from last year going into this year.”
Continuity will be key for the Reds in overcoming some of last season’s missteps. An ongoing problem was a lack of options and overall celerity in the midfield. Many goals were conceded because of opposing attackers making quick, crippling runs through the defensive line, corralling the defenders into unsavoury positions. Midseason acquisitions such as Nicolas Benezet (who now plays for the Rapids, adding an oddly personal twist to the upcoming match) had the precise intention of addressing these blind spots.
However, with so many players returning this year, Vanney’s game plan will now be to develop the foundation laid from the team’s recent playoff run. TFC has favoured a possession-heavy style under their coach, and finessing the transition game—and the killing of counterattacks—will be something the team looks to perfect before the start of the regular season.
“The big details are pretty clear,” Vanney said of the team’s strategic focus. “There are a lot of things, as I watch back games from last season, the Finals, there are some other details I would love to get into more.”
However, a big aspect of TFC’s game revolves around the the squad’s defensive-midfielder Michael Bradley, who will be missing the next few months of play because of injury. With the team’s formation remaining unchanged, there are several potential options for who might fill that spot, but the most likely candidate seems to be young Torontonian Liam Fraser.
“Everyone sees his quality on the ball, his ability to hit passes at various ranges all over the field,” Vanney said of the midfielder. “It’s just on the defensive side, defensive reading, making sure he stays engaged, and organizing players around him.”
The return of striker Jozy Altidore from injury also bodes well for the team, as despite missing the majority of the playoffs in 2019, he was the only goal-scorer in last year’s ill-fated championship match against Seattle. His presence and offensive knack will surely be welcome by Vanney, especially when paired with last year’s darling (and veritable saviour) Alejandro Pozuelo, adding some much needed offensive depth.
Vanney’s vision for the 2020 season seems clear, and in no real way unexpected, as it has worked before: control possession, attack systematically, mitigate turnovers, defend as a unit. Offer all else to the football gods (or God, himself, if we were in England) and hope they smile.
On the other end of the pitch, Colorado has been shoring up their midfield and attacking prowess as well, clearly focused on once more becoming contenders (the Rapids finished 9th in the Western Conference last season and have not made the Playoffs since 2016).
Additions such as Benezet and Argentine winger Braian Galván will certainly strengthen the team’s control over possession and distribution, and act as a worthy strategic test—as well as mirror—for TFC on Saturday; a similar formation to Vanney’s beloved 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 would serve to further enrich the potential face-off.
Oh Captain, My Captain!— Waking the Red (@WakingtheRed) February 6, 2020
With Michael Bradley sidelined for approximately four months, who should be @TorontoFC's captain?
The current front-runner may surprise you #TFCLive | :@MichaelSingh94 https://t.co/1rXMoNiLu8
Although it is merely preseason game, Saturday will offer insight into the tone TFC plans to set as their campaign begins later in the month. Certainly five friendly matches gives Vanney room to experiment with both players, strategy, and several opponents, but everything seems to be more or less set for TFC. The starting XI when the season kicks off on Feb. 29 will be telling, but also not terribly surprising either.
They are going to do more of what got them to the Finals, and hopefully, better, with Friday’s welcome addition of their third designated player: Pablo Piatti.
Which makes this upcoming season—and even the immediate string of upcoming exhibition matches—seem like more of a sequel for Toronto FC rather than just another turn on the merry-go-round. After a disappointing league finish in 2018, last year’s Cinderella run, despite its painful finish, indeed gave something back to the organization: hope. Hope that 2020 might be a return to form—and then some.
Above all else, Greg Vanney seems intent on ensuring that TFC’s quality and consistency are no longer in question.
You can find the rest of Toronto FC’s preseason schedule below.
- Sat, Feb. 8: vs. Colorado Rapids @ TBD (UC Irvine - Irvine, Calif.)
- Wed, Feb. 12: vs. LAFC @ 3 pm ET (Banc of California Stadium - Los Angeles, Calif.)
- Sat, Feb. 15: vs. LA Galaxy @ 6 pm ET (Dignity Health Sports Park - Carson, Calif.)
- Wed, Feb. 19: Chicago Fire @ 6 pm ET (UC Irvine - Irvine, Calif.)
- Sat, Feb. 22: vs. Colorado Rapids @ 3 pm ET (Dignity Health Sports Park - Carson, Calif.)