Toronto FC recharge during break, prepares for Chicago Fire clash ...

16 Jun 2024
Toronto FC

After the first significant pause in the action since the start of April, Toronto FC are back at it on Saturday night when they welcome the Chicago Fire to BMO Field.

Having played 11 matches in 39 days, a weekend off was much appreciated.

The players were allowed to get away, spend some time with their families and relax. Even John Herdman was able to switch off for a few days – just a few.

“Yeah, I did,” said the TFC Head Coach, who returned to his family home in Vancouver over the break. “I had a list about this long – from gardening to cleaning the garage.”

“There was a list. I've been away for a while – it was a long list,” he continued. “I got through that in about three days and had about two days off. It was lovely.”

Defender Kevin Long, like many of his teammates, took the opportunity to get out of the city.

“I went to California with my girlfriend for a few days,” he recounted. “Just relaxed by the pool, a couple of nice walks, so it was good, a good break.”

The effects of both the time off and the changing season was noticeable in training upon their return.

“The weather makes a big difference,” said Herdman. “Summer in Toronto, it’s one of the best cities in North America to be in the summer. You can just feel the mood, the energy out on the pitch, it's high.”

“The guys are vibrant and they’ve got some stories to tell because they’ve been away,” he added. “It's been a good week.”

With another hectic spell ahead – Toronto will play 10 matches between June 16 and July 20, nine in the league and one in the cup with the first leg of their Canadian Championship semifinal series against Forge FC set for July 10 – it was a good time to rest and recharge before doing it all over again.

Long agreed.

“For me, it did, yeah,” he replied. “I've already played a lot of games this season and for everyone else as well.”

“The two games we had just before the break, we felt like we probably should have got six points,” Long continued, referencing the draws against the Philadelphia Union and D.C. United. “We dominated for large parts and we came away with two points, which is not good enough.”

“That's something we had time to reflect on,” added the centre-back, coming off a European season as well. “And everyone has come back fresh this week, ready to go again. We want to get six points from these two home games coming up.”

Toronto will play their next two matches at home – Saturday against Chicago and Wednesday against Nashville SC – before hitting the road against the New York Red Bulls the following Saturday and at Atlanta United the weekend after that.

In the middle of the maelstrom it can be difficult to find the time to zoom out and absorb the larger picture. The break also offers an opportunity to do just that.

That analysis focused on two elements: the need to close out matches better and the necessity that the side rein in some of the excess bookings.

Nearly half of the goals TFC has conceded – 12 of 26 – have come in the final 15 minutes of matches and they lead the league in yellow cards with 53 through 17 matches – both Federico Bernardeschi and Nicksoen Gomis will miss the Chicago match having picked up second yellows and reds late against D.C.

“We spoke about it this week,” said Long. “A lot of the goals we have conceded this season have been in the second half.”

“We're starting games really well and are dominating a lot of the games, but the second half, it seems like our concentration levels dropped off a little bit,” he continued. “We can’t allow that to happen. We need to be ready to play for 95-plus minutes, we need to stay concentrated and stay disciplined throughout. That's something we're looking to do going forward.”

Both were at the centre of the conversations this week.

“We had unit meetings all with the same theme: the last 25 minutes of games,” said Herdman. “We've looked at some of the analytics, where we're a little bit soft and where we've got to tighten up, and then ultimately some of the emotional elements of picking up needless cards.”

“Those things are being addressed this week with the leadership group,” he continued. “Internally, the players have put their foot down collectively to say, the cards that we're picking up for our aggressive style and nature, we’ll continue in that space – we have to, but the needless ones – a third of all our cards, through dissent or delaying restarts, etc. – those are the ones we're going to clean up.”

The break also made space for some housekeeping, as Sean Johnson signed a one-year contract extension plus team option through 2026.

“Brilliant,” was Herdman’s reaction to that news. “You have to see him off the pitch.”

“You've seen him on the pitch, you see what he does, but just a leader of men. Really passionate about the club as well and what he wants for the fans here in the city,” he continued. “They're the type of guys I want, guys that you want to sign forever. He's the Atiba Hutchinson type, he’s got that influence and impact on the people around him.”

Johnson, as well as Canadian duo Jonathan Osorio and Richie Laryea, will miss out on the next few matches as nations prepare for the upcoming Copa América.

Between Copa and the 2024 UEFA European Championships, pretty much every team in MLS will be missing key pieces over the coming weeks.

Chicago will be without Xherdan Shaqiri, with Switzerland at the Euros.

“Good team,” summed up Herdman of this weekend’s opponent. “They adjusted without Shaqiri and shifted to a 5-3-2.”

“Back fives in this league typically outperform back four teams and the back-five of Frank [Klopas] is very disciplined,” he continued. “Really impressed with [Brian] Gutiérrez, he's going to be a bit of a star of MLS and it's a lovely story being a local boy, so he's the one to watch for, he's got real quality to get things going for Chicago.”

“And then the centre-forward DP, [Hugo] Cuypers, is just starting to find his rhythm and at the right time. We know that they're in good rhythm, they're in good confidence, they've had a few results and they're coming here with that confidence. We have to just maintain our home identity, but be ready for a team that can take you right to the 96th minute.”

Cuypers leads the side with five goals on the season, scoring in the last two outings, and the 20-year-old Gutiérrez has four, Maren Haile-Selassie tops the assist chart with three helpers.

The Fire come to BMO Field unbeaten in three matches with draws against D.C. and Orlando City before heading into the break with a 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy.

“They're an aggressive team. They like to go direct at times,” said Long. “They're going to bring their best stuff and we need to be ready for it.”

“Ultimately we want to concentrate on ourselves,” he closed. “We're at home so we want to bring our A game and hopefully we can win.”

Read more
Similar news