TORONTO, Canada—Tuesday night was special.
Toronto FC returned to BMO Field after 164 long days away from home, taking on west-coast foes Vancouver Whitecaps FC
without any fans in their first of six all-Canadian matches over the next three weeks.
Whitecaps FC were trying to build off an inspiring performance at the MLS is Back Tournament, however, Vancouver was quickly humbled by the Reds, who put in one of their more complete 90-minute efforts in recent memory, resulting in a comfortable 3-0 win.
Here are a few things to look for heading into Friday night’s rematch.
TFC supporters replicate ‘home-like’ atmosphere outside empty BMO Field
It isn’t a secret and hasn’t been for a while: Toronto FC supporters are the best in the league.
Forced to watch from outside the stadium as the Reds played in front of an empty BMO Field amid a global pandemic, fans still showed up loud and proud Tuesday evening to support the boys in red.
Gathering by the infamous FOOD Building outside the North end of the stadium, supporters would beat their drums, light flairs, and scream their lungs out as echoes of their all-familiar chants began to reign into BMO Field prior to kickoff as both teams took the pitch for warm-ups.
“That was awesome,” said Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney. “I didn’t come out for the warm-ups, so personally, I didn’t know they were there until we came out and started the game. I looked over and I was saying to the other coaches, ‘wow that is amazing.’
“If there is a place to watch the game, the supporters are going to find it. That is why they are so great to have. We could hear them in the back which added a little bit of environment and gave some people for our guys to perform for in front of tonight.”
The fans’ unwavered support would continue to pour in over the course of the match, something that clearly meant a lot to the home side. Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley, someone who often doesn’t show emotion, couldn’t hide his smile when asked after the match what their presence meant to the team.
“Our fans are incredible,” said Bradley. “The relationship that our team has with our most loyal most passionate fans is incredible. The support that they have been giving us over the years, the places they have travelled, the things that they have done and the support that they have shown even in difficult moments is special.
“To see them here with us on a night like this, it meant a lot to the group. We first heard them during the warm-up. You could see the smile and how much they lifted us.”
If you’re interested in coming out to show your support for the Reds, but aren’t quite as rowdy as the TFC die-hards, check out the OLG Play Stage, a drive-in experience right by BMO Field. You can purchase tickets here.
Can Pablo Piatti follow up memorable BMO Field debut?
The goal will steal headlines, and deservedly so, but for all of his 84 minutes of action, Toronto FC’s newest designated-player signing Pablo Piatti was at his best that we’ve seen from him so far in a Reds’ uniform.
After making his debut at the MLS is Back Tournament, the Argentine had sort of tempered expectations that came with his designated-player tag. But after his first goal in a Toronto FC jersey, Piatti showed that he’s still capable of living up to his La Liga hype. As someone mentioned to me on Twitter, it was a goal worthy of a stadium-full of fans.
2 goals in his home debut last night!— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 19, 2020
Pablo Piatti putting the league on notice. pic.twitter.com/OP8hhqmsHT
It was Piatti’s first goal since January 17, 2019, a Copa Del Rey match with vs. Villareal.
Aside from Tuesday night’s moment of brilliance, the 31 year old hasn’t shown a willingness to take defenders on 1v1 or create on his own. Instead, he opts to trust his teammates, specifically Alejandro Pozuelo and Auro Jr, and the result has been, quite frankly, beautiful to watch.
“I have a good relationship with them and I have a great relationship with the rest of the team,” said Piatit after the match. “And I think this is what makes the team great. We all have good chemistry.”
Keeping in mind that was only his fourth game since joining the team, Piatti is still finding his rhythm within the squad. However, if he does manage to find a way to add that extra gear to his game, like he showed Tuesday night where he is generating goal-scoring opportunities on his own, TFC may just have the best attack in the league.
Look to see if Piatti can follow up Tuesday night’s performance Friday night.
TFC have rare opportunity to get ahead in Supporters Shield race
Greg Vanney doesn’t want to look ahead, but lying in front of his squad is a rare opportunity.
Over the next few games North of the border, in addition to a spot in the 2020 Canadian Championship Final, MLS points are up for grabs and never before has Toronto FC faced both Canadian sides—Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact—this quickly and this frequently in league play.
At the MLS is Back Tournament, TFC defeated Montreal without Jozy Altidore or Jonathan Osorio, and on Tuesday, the Reds showed just how much better they are than the Whitecaps when they’re on their game.
With 15 more points up for grabs against their Canadian rivals between now and Sept. 9, Toronto, who are currently second in the Eastern Conference—four points back of the first-place Columbus Crew SC—have a chance to propel themselves up the Supporters Shield race before facing an American-based MLS team in Phase Two of the league’s return-to-play plan.
It bares even more weight when you consider that this season will likely be shorter than any other season. If they want to be viewed a legitimate contenders, now more than ever, the Reds need to dial in and treat these games as near-must-win games.
A rested Michael Bradley controls the midfield; will he go 90 minutes again?
Similar to Toronto FC’s first match at the MLS is Back Tournament against D.C. United, captain Michael Bradley looked outstanding Tuesday night, dictating the pace and tempo of play from the heart of the midfield.
The 32 year old led Toronto in passes completed (115) and made a Whitecaps FC press often look silly, breaking it with ease by turning calmly in tight areas or taking an extra touch under pressure before finding an open Red jersey.
So far this season, Bradley has yet to be substituted, playing 90 minutes in each of the Reds’ five games since returning to action last month after an ankle injury which forced him to be sidelined for eight months.
Vanney wasn’t willing to substitute MB4 off at the MLS is Back Tournament or when his team went up 3-0 against Vancouver. But with TFC playing for the second time in four days, will Vanney consider taking his skipper off if the Reds find a way to open up another lead?
Probably not. Stay tuned.