TORONTO, Canada —After two hard fought matches to kick off their 2021 season in the Concacaf Champions League, Toronto FC will now shift their focus to this year’s MLS campaign as they get ready to take on the rebranded Club de Foot Montreal on Saturday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 PM EST and can be watched on TSN1/4 and CTV.
As the Reds embark on a new season, they’ll do so wanting to correct the mistakes of last season. What looked like a promising campaign fell apart in the later stages of the season, ultimately leading to a first-round exit in the MLS playoffs to Nashville, and at least partly contributed to changes in the head coaching seat with Greg Vanney’s departure.
Now, with a new head coach in Chris Armas, who will be taking charge of his first 401 derby on Saturday and first MLS match as head coach of Toronto FC, comes a new philosophy and a new way of playing.
Reds faithful got a taste of how the team will play under Armas over the two legs against Club León in the Champions League. The high intensity press that Armas’ side put León under yielded the Reds with two crucial goals. Since his first day on the job, the TFC head coach has stated his intention for his side to play vertically and direct, putting defences under pressure and capitalizing on those turnovers.
“We love it...we’re forcing mistakes,” said Armas speaking ahead of Saturday’s season opener. “We’re all in and all committed to aggressive defending, and this idea that we’re dangerous because we don’t have the ball.”
Armas reiterated his team’s commitment to playing this style and is something that will surely become part of this TFC team’s identity over the course of this season.
“We’re committing to this style of play and it’s part of our game and will help us become a more well rounded team,” explained Armas.
This new style of playing has included TFC captain, Michael Bradley, playing higher up the pitch to pressure the opposition, break up plays and launch attacks. Through the first two matches of the year in the, the 33 year-old looks fresh and like the midfield general Reds faithful have been accustomed to. There will rightly be questions about how long Bradley will be able to sustain that level of energy, but as the season gets underway it’s clear that the American international is, and as he has always done, ready to lead this Reds side by example.
Armas’ more physically demanding style of play will naturally require more rotation and a more careful assessment of minutes. Whereas former head coach Greg Vanney shied away from playing his youngsters, that certainly will not be the case. As has been evident by TFC’s two competitive fixtures so far, the new TFC boss is ready and willing to give responsibilities to the younger members of the squad. The Reds relied on their youngsters on Wednesday, and that group will once again have a role to play in the season opener.
It was obvious that every player in a red shirt on Wednesday was running on fumes by the end of the game, and it’s completely understandable. Help is on the way—sort of.
There were a number of key players that were once again unavailable on Wednesday, and while Armas didn’t explicitly say who is in and who’s out, he did say there would be some changes, but TFC fans should not expect wholesale changes for Saturday’s opener.
Armas says there will be a few changes to the lineup on Saturday vs. Montreal, but there will also be players who stay in the XI, adding that continuity is important.— Michael Singh (@MichaelSingh94) April 15, 2021
According to the injury report, Toronto FC will be without Alejandro Pozuelo and Chris Mavinga for Saturday’s match, while Jonathan Osorio misses out on the tie due to a one-game suspension picked up vs. Nashville SC last season.
Erickson Gallardo, who underwent surgery on his groin, Julian Dunn, and Achara have also been ruled out of contention and are expected to miss the next several matches.
Jozy Altidore, meanwhile, has been listed as questionable with a thigh injury he suffered in the team’s opening leg draw vs. Club Leon on April 7, while Tsubasa Endoh is also being listed as questionable.
The one bit of positive news, however, is that it appears 21-year-old striker Ayo Akinola will be fit to make his season debut and Eriq Zavaleta is also expected to be available for selction after missing out on Wednesday’s second-leg victory vs. Leon. Akinola led the league in goals per 90 last season and will look to build on his strong start to his young career.
Speaking of young careers, fresh off his surprising performance on Wednesday, Toronto FC signed centre-back Luke Singh to a homegrown first-team contract. With Dunn expected to be sidelined for at least the next six matches and Mavinga out as well, Singh will provide some much needed coverage in a depleted back line.
A new name and new logo are not the only things that are different in Montreal, meanwhil,e as they begin the season.
Similar to the Reds, Montreal will have a new head coach on the sidelines on Saturday. After previous head Thierry Henry’s departure due to ‘family reasons’, Wilfried Nancy was promoted to head coach in March. The club have also made a number of changes to last year’s squad bringing in new attacking players hoping to get some consistency upfront. Even with all the changes, there will be a few familiar faces in the Montreal midfield including Canadian Samuel Piette and former Tottenham midfielder Victor Wanyama.
In preparation for the season, CF Montreal played two preseason matches which yielded mixed results. A 2-0 loss against Tormenta FC and a 5-1 win against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
While Montreal will have some body of work to assess this year’s TFC squad, the same can’t be said for TFC’s coaching staff. The change in management and the lack of available footage on their opponents preseason matches will have made it harder for the Reds to prepare for their 401 rivals. While Nancy was part of the Montreal coaching staff under Henry and there may be some similarities from Henry’s setup, the opening stages of Saturday’s match will certainly be a feeling out process for both teams.
Over the last number of seasons TFC has been an elite team in the MLS. While this off season brought some changes to the club, the expectation and the goal remains the same.
- Jonathan Osorio, who missed out on the Champions League tie through injury, now appears to be healthy. However, he will be unavailable for Saturday’s season opener through a suspension which carried over from last season playoff match against Nashville.
- Toronto and Montreal went head-to-head four times last season, with the Reds getting the better of their 401 rivals on three of those occasions (3 wins, 1 loss).
- The Reds will see a familiar face on the CF Montreal sidelines on Saturday as Laurent Ciman takes up his new role on the Montreal coaching staff.
How to watch
Opponent: CF Montreal
Time: 2 PM EST
Watch: TSN1/4, CTV
Location: DRV PNK Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida