Toronto FC flew down to Mexico today for the second leg of their 2018 preseason. It sounds like they’ll be training at altitude, in preparation for CONCACAF Champions League games in Colorado and (potentially) other locations in Central America. The Reds will, according to Oliver Platt on Twitter, be playing friendlies against a number of local sides down there, most notably Liga MX giants Club America, Pachuca and Cruz Azul.
We don’t know many details beyond that (especially when any of these games will be happening), but we can still read a little bit into these plans. In general, this seems like a really good training strategy. We already knew the Reds were going to Mexico after their stint in Los Angeles, but as it becomes reality it seems even smarter.
While TFC’s first competitive game this year won’t be in the warm Caribbean climate they expected, it will be at a tough altitude in Denver. The difficulty of exertion in thinner air is well-known; it would actually be pretty short-sighted not to work out in the mountains at some point as they prepare for that fixture with Colorado.
At time of writing, the Reds have 14 days until they take the pitch on Feb. 20. I’d assume they’ll probably spend a little over a week in Mexico, since we know of at least four games scheduled. This seems like much more of a competition-oriented trip than the LA camp; the teams they’re playing against and the players getting minutes are a little more important.
Oliver also reported that TFC are taking a smaller group down south with them this time, with a more select group of players getting most of the playing time. To me, that sounds like they’ll be treating these games a little more seriously. Formations and tactics probably matter a little more now as they try to get more of a feel for Mexican competition.
Of course, this is also the perfect time to get Gregory van der Wiel involved. Finding out how he fits into the lineup in games against properly tough opposition is a nice way to push him out of the nest, so to speak.
I like the two-pronged approach to preseason. It allows the players to ease into things a little more, while focusing on one thing at a time. The LA trip was more about getting into shape physically and shaking off the rust, while this one seems almost more of a mental exercise (plus the altitude training, of course).
It’s better than the usual mini-tournament with other MLS clubs, in my opinion. Even if the Mexican sides aren’t fielding their starters, they’re still in-form teams who play styles that TFC need to learn if they have real ambitions in the CCL.
I still expect to see TFC II and academy players involved in this trip, but I don’t know if we’ll quite see the youth infusion that characterized a lot of the LA tour. Players like Liam Fraser and Ayo Akinola will probably be involved, as, I expect, will Tsubasa Endoh (who’s trying to win a new contract).
Overall though, I think this is more about getting the attack clicking, particularly the Sebastian Giovinco-Jozy Altidore connection. That, and allowing the defenders to work out how to play with their new teammate, ideally in a variety of formations.
The Colorado Rapids’ preseason plans pale a little in comparison. They’re more used to playing at altitude, of course, but still: they’re making two trips to Arizona, to scrimmage with a pair of MLS teams (Columbus and Sporting KC), as well as a couple of lower-league sides (Sporting Arizona and Phoenix Rising FC).
With all that in mind, I think Toronto will be significantly more prepared for the game on Feb. 20 than their opponents.