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Preview: Toronto FC look to bounce back against the Vancouver Whitecaps

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After a disappointing result in week one, the Reds look for their first win of the season in their “home opener.”

MLS: Toronto FC at CF Montreal
Toronto FC head into Saturday’s match looking for their first win of the MLS season against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO, Canada—After a tough outing last week against CF Montreal, the Reds take to the pitch once again on Saturday against another Canadian rival, the Vancouver Whitecaps. Kick off is scheduled for 3 PM EST and can be watched on TSN 1 & 4.

Saturday’s match at Exploria Stadium, will officially be TFC’s home opener and while it is usually a special game for the club and its fans, it will lack the flair and excitement that usually comes along with a BMO Field home opener. Speaking ahead of Saturday’s “home opener,” Chris Armas commented on the unusual circumstances surrounding his first home match with the club.

“My official first home opener will be when we are back with our supporters,” acknowledged the TFC head coach. “We’re going to make it (Exploria Stadium) our home for a bit, but I haven’t thought of it that way.”

Goalkeeper Alex Bono who’s been a part of six home openers since joining the Reds, echoed the head coach’s sentiment, and reiterated that this will be treated like any other game.

“It’s different, it’s difficult but at the end of the day it’s just another game,” said Bono. “We just have to see it as a game; fans, no fans,” continued Bono.

With that said, it’s obvious that the TFC camp has been fully focused on putting last week’s result behind them and looking ahead to what will once again be another busy week for the club. After last week’s performance, Armas made it clear that from start to finish it was an unacceptable performance from his squad. A week off however, has provided the head coach and his coaching staff to once again emphasize Armas’ vision.

“We quickly got back to work,” said Armas in his pre-match press conference. “So there wasn’t any overarching messaging. It was understanding what’s ahead...and so much of what we’ve done is get back to our basics, and all the little things even in that game that we did well and areas we have to get back on the same page. It’s about me and the staff creating clarity.”

It’s still early days in the Armas era, so this should come as no surprise to the TFC faithful. In wins and in losses, there are going to parts of the game that the coaching staff is going to want to develop and improve upon.

One of the aspects of TFC’s game that was evident still needs work is the transition game. With everyone playing higher up the pitch in this new more aggressive system, it’s clear that there will be room behind the back. In the season opener, Montreal was able to exploit this space as it helped create the second goal for the opposition.

Playing a high-pressing game requires everyone on the pitch to be in sync and to be aggressive to eliminate an attacking threat, including goalkeepers. Speaking with the media ahead of Saturday’s match, veteran goalkeeper Alex Bono provided some insight into the role that him and fellow goalie Quentin Westberg need to play in order to act as an extension of the back line.

“It’s no secret that one area we could be exposed is long balls over the top,” said Bono. “We’ve been working a lot with the goalkeepers in team training, as a goalkeeper group with being on the front foot and being off our line, cutting out through balls.”

Armas will have a decision to make as to who the better choice will be for this week. Bono, who has started in each of TFC’s three games this season, will be getting more and more comfortable with this new style. Westberg meanwhile, who missed the first match due to personal reasons but was on the bench last week, has shown a natural ability to read the game well under previous head coach Greg Vanney and is excellent with ball at his feet.

The Vancouver Whitecaps, meanwhile, opened their season with a 1-0 win against the Portland Timbers last week on a set piece goal from Canadian international Lucas Cavallini. Speaking with the media on Thursday, Armas highlighted the strengths of this Vancouver squad, including their threat from dead ball situations.

“It’s clear to see how they’re dangerous,” said Armas. “On set pieces, on transition. They’re organized and a well coached team.”

Along with the transition game we’ve already touched on, TFC also gave up a goal on a Montreal corner kick last week, and it will have been another part of the game that the TFC coaching staff will have worked on with the squad heading into Saturday’s matchup.

While this TFC team, as in the recent past, is not one to make excuses, one reason for last week’s lacklustre performance could be down to a lack of rotation and ultimately fatigue.

The week off will have done the squad some good, but TFC have another quick turnaround as the Reds will host Cruz Azul in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League on Tuesday.

The good news is that Armas will have more options to pick from as more and more players come off the injury list. Striker Jozy Altidore and midfielder Jonathan Osorio look set to make their MLS season debuts this weekend.

However, Reds fans will have to wait just a little while longer to see Alejandro Pozuelo and Chris Mavinga make their debuts—although Chris Armas noted that both players were close to returning.

Liam Fraser, meanwhile, was the latest TFC player to find his name on the injury report.

A lack of healthy players is always going to make a coach’s job much more difficult. But now as the squad continues to get healthy, and senior players make their return to the squad, TFC will need to continue to improve and execute on the pitch to show that their season opening loss was just a blip.

Match Notes

  • In three matches against the Whitecaps last season, TFC walked away with two wins (2 W, 1 L), including two clean sheets (3-0 W on Aug. 18, 2020, 1-0 W on Aug. 21, 2020).
  • Richie Laryea picked up where he left off, being an attacking threat, including scoring in last week’s season opener. Look for him to continue to become a big part of the offence throughout the season.
  • Jakheele Marshall-Rutty, who came on as a substitute last week registered his first assist in a TFC shirt with the helper on Laryea’s goal.

How to Watch

VS: Vancouver Whitecaps
Time: 3 PM EST
Location: Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL
Watch: TSN 1& 4