Toronto FC looks to climb out of MLS hole as injury list eases
Toronto FC’s list of walking wounded is beginning to thin. And not a moment too soon.
A quarter of the way through the regular season and the Major League Soccer champions are second-last in the standings at 2-6-1. Injuries have forced coach Greg Vanney to use 14 different players including captain Michael Bradley, a holding midfielder by trade, in the backline.
TFC has already lost one more game than it did all of last season when it led the league at 20-5-9.
Toronto has given up five goals in the first 15 minutes of a game, tied with New York City FC for worst in league. Given TFC actually conceded those goals in the first seven minutes of the game, it can probably claim the record.
Toronto has also yielded five goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Only Vancouver had been scored on more during the same period. But, knowing the class of his squad, Vanney sees brighter days ahead.
He should be able to draw from defenders Chris Mavinga, Gregory van der Wiel, Jason Hernandez and Eriq Zavaleta on Friday against visiting Orlando (6-3-1), meaning Bradley can revert to his normal midfield perch.
Mavinga (hamstring) and Zavaleta (quad) are returning from injury. Van der Wiel has been playing through an ongoing Achilles issue while Hernandez, who rejoined the team in late March, has been working himself back into shape.
On the minus side, Toronto will be without its $12-million US strike tandem with the suspended Sebastian Giovinco joining the injured Jozy Altidore (foot) on the sideline.
Nico Hasler (quad), Justin Morrow (calf ) and Drew Moor (quad) remain out. Defender Nick Hagglund (hamstring) trained by himself Wednesday and will likely need a little more time.
Toronto faces a challenging stretch, starting with Orlando whose six-game winning streak was snapped in a 2-1 loss by league-leading Atlanta on Sunday. FC Dallas (4-1-4) visits BMO Field next week before TFC heads to Columbus (6-3-3).
“We know we have a good team but it does us no good to be sitting in here after every game talking about the same things,” a stonefaced Bradley said after last Saturday’s 3-2 loss at New England.
“We’ve got to find the right ways to play ourselves back into things and regain the momentum that we’ve had for the better part of a year and a half or two,” he added.
A gruelling CONCACAF Champions League schedule, not to mention back-to-back MLS Cup appearances, has meant that Toronto has had next to no down time.
TFC poured all its resources into the Champions League run, looking to fill the last remaining empty trophy case at its training centre. A win and the MLS club would have headed to the FIFA Club World Cup.
It didn’t help that after the heartbreaking penalty shootout loss to Chivas Guadalajara in the Champions League final, Toronto was thrown right back into the MLS regular-season grind.
Playing at altitude has taken a toll.
As has a long Toronto winter and poor spring, which forced TFC players to train on artificial turf and then play on a soft grass surface at BMO Field (a new surface is in the works).
Practice has been cut back to allow players more time to recover.
On the plus side, Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio has been in fine form and Bradley remains the team’s glue.
“Michael’s been what he is, which is extraordinarily professional,” said Vanney.
Brazilian newcomer Auro has also been a rock, doing whatever has been asked.
“Just a warrior. He shows up every single day. Loves to play soccer,” said Vanney, who nevertheless worries about the workload the 22-year-old has had to carry.
And van der Wiel, who had been seen as a right-sided outside back, has been a revelation at centre back.
TFC’s Jozy Altidore reacts during the CONCACAF Champions League final against Chivas in Guadalajara, Mexico, in April.