TORONTO, Canada—Welcome to the home stretch.
TFC, who currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference, have been playing some frustrating football over the past three weeks. They’ll have plenty of time to right the ship, starting no sooner than Wednesday evening against New York City FC.
Since our last TFC Notebook, a lot has transpired. The Reds have found their home away from home, were crowned champions of the Canadian MLS mini-tournament, and added a new player from the reigning Premier League Champions. The rest of the 2020 MLS regular season schedule was also revealed.
With much to cover, let’s get to it. Here’s this week’s TFC Notebook.
Tony Gallacher speaks to media for the first time
Last week, the newest Toronto FC signing introduced himself to Toronto, as former Liverpool left-back Tony Gallacher spoke to media for the first time.
After briefly speaking to the Scottish youth international, media members quickly got a sense as to why he was a constant bearer of the Liverpool U-23 captain’s armband. Well-spoken and mature beyond his years, the 21 year old answered questions like a pro.
“I just turned 21, so me and my agent and my family, know that I need games, real first-team games,” said Gallacher. “So, I’ve been under-23 at Liverpool for two-and-a-half years now, and it’s been good. I’ve learned from some really good coaches, how to play the game and stuff, but I think the minute this came around it was definitely time for me to kick on with my career.”
Most notably, perhaps, was Gallacher’s kind words he shared about his new head coach’s style of play.
“I’ve been saying this to a lot of the boys: (Greg Vanney) tries to play very similarly to the way we do at Liverpool—he plays football the right way, if you can say that,” said Gallacher. “... so, I have been speaking to a few of the boys saying how similar I do think his systems do relate to back home, so for me, in training, it’s just what I usually do. I don’t need to change the way I play and I don’t need to adapt too much, so in relation to that, he definitely likes to play positive attacking football, definitely.”
Gallacher auditioning for a role in Toronto beyond 2020
Shortly after Gallacher introduced himself to the Toronto media, TFC coach Vanney, as he always does, spoke, and he had some high praise for the 21-year-old left-back.
“We’ve seen him. He’s grown up as a left-back. He understands the position. He’s very comfortable in terms of his role and understanding,” said Vanney. “Obviously, coming from Liverpool, he’s got a good idea of what it will take for him to be successful with us. He’s a good passer out of the position. He’s a good defender, he understands his reads and decision-making on the defensive side, and he gets himself into the attack ... he doesn’t fly up and down like Richie (Laryea) per se, but he can join the attack and he’s a quality crosser.”
Vanney also confirmed that the Reds do indeed have the option to purchase Gallacher at the end of his loan deal.
“Yeah, there is (a purchase option),” said Vanney. “There’s always an option if we want to keep a player; the discussions between the clubs is open there for us to be able to do that. Whenever we, and I think anyone in the league, comes in on loan, there’s always an option attached to that to keep the player if it works out.”
It’s another low-risk, high-reward move from TFC, and perhaps the Scottish youth international is the future down the left flank for the Reds. Gallacher, who has made it clear that he made the move from the reigning Premier League champions overseas to Toronto in search of first-team minutes, is in line to get a look when the Reds take on NYCFC Wednesday evening.
TFC President wants consistent production out of Piatti to warrant DP status
Speaking of next season, Toronto FC are going to have a very pivotal decision to make in regards to their newest designated player Pablo Piatti.
Coming off a severe knee injury, the Reds took a cautious approach on the Argentine, handing him a 1+1 contract—one year, plus a team-option for another. Fast forward several months, and health-wise, Piatti looks fantastic, with Vanney calling him one of the fittest players on the team. In terms of time spent on the pitch, after a shaky start, he has defied all of our expectations.
“Look, I think Pablo (Piatti) has come in and he’s now started to make an impact,” said Toronto FC President Bill Manning on Footy Talks Live last week. “Jim Liston told me that the last three games he’s covered more ground than anyone on the field. That’s important to Greg (Vanney), that work rate. You know, Richie Laryea makes that fantastic run in the Montreal game, but Pablo was aware enough to make that run to finish it off.. but I think he’s still got another gear in him. I think he’s gotten accustomed to the team and I think we are still going to see better things from him.
It’s hard to believe it’s already nearing the end of September, but with the year winding down, that Piatti contract decision is slowly creeping up on TFC, and this is what Manning had to say about it when asked.
“For the most part, we always wait until we’re towards the end with options, so we’ll look at it as we get a little further through the season ... right now, he’s fit in really well. You know, you need production out of your DPs. If you’re going to spend money, those are the guys that have to produce, and so, we still want to see Pablo be consistently on the scoreboard and part of the attack, but so far, he’s doing really well.”
Is it time to start Ayo Akinola over Jozy Altidore?
Speaking of consistent production, in nine matches—517 minutes spent on the pitch this season—Jozy Altidore has one goal and one assist. While his goal was iconic and critical for the Reds in their push towards the 2020 Canadian Championship, Altidore appears to be on a different page than his teammates in 2020.
In the years leading up to this season, the U.S. international thrived off quality service down the wing and a lethal counter-attack. He was able to simply time his runs into the box, or in-behind a defender, and pounce when called upon. This season, however, with the addition of Pablo Piatti on the right wing and Alejandro Pozuelo in his wheelhouse at the No. 10 position, the Reds are playing a very indirect style of play, often slowing the game down in attempt to pick their opponent apart. And that hasn’t worked so far for Altidore.
As an attack, the Piatti-Pozuelo-Altidore trio simply hasn’t clicked. It’s something that Vanney and the TFC coaching staff have emphasized. When the 30-year-old striker makes a run to get in behind, his teammates aren’t looking for him. When they want him to make a run in behind, Altidore isn’t making the run. And it shows. Jozy looks visibly frustrated when he’s on the pitch, making infrequent runs, and not getting the ball.
Which brings us to our next point.
20 year old Ayo Akinola has six goals in seven matches, 420 minutes spent on the pitch. Take away his hat-trick against Montreal at the MLS is Back Tournament, and the youngster is still producing at a higher rate than Altidore. While Jozy may be looking for something specific, Ayo is causing non-stop chaos in the sense that he’s making a run regardless if he’s getting the ball or not.
While Altidore has undoubtedly earned his stripes and starting status, if the rate he’s firing at continues trending in this direction, and Ayo keeps performing like he has been, you have to start the guy you know can give you 90 solid minutes, no?
Michael Bradley injury update
It looked Michael Bradley would be able to recover following a controversial tackle from Montreal Impact midfielder Maciel on Sept 1, one which was rescinded from a straight-red card to a yellow card. The TFC captain managed to make it off the pitch under his own will, giving fans hope that he wouldn’t be sidelined for an extended period of time. However, we soon learned that Bradley would miss his second significant chunk of the season after an MRI revealed a Grade 2 MCL Sprain to his right knee.
Expected to miss “weeks, not months,” according to Vanney, so far, Bradley’s missed the past three matches, and is slated once again to be sidelined for Wednesday’s fixture against New York City FC.
According to the Canadian Press’ Neil Davidson, however, the TFC skipper may be fit enough to play a role Saturday against the Columbus Crew SC as the Reds make their debut at their new home away from home: Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
Bradley is not currently with the team in the United States, but could fly into Hartford for their third game, depending on how his knee responds.
What a boost getting back MB4 in the midfield to take on the first-place Crew would be.