Toronto FC looks to climb the standings at expense of lowly FC Cincinnati
Toronto FC's Patrick Mullins (13) controls the ball against New England Revolution midfielder Luis Caicedo, left, in the first half of an MLS soccer match at Gillette Stadium, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. Toronto FC visits expansion Cincinnati for the first time this weekend, looking to climb the Eastern Conference standings at the expense of MLS's worst team. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Elise Amendola
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, September 6, 2019 3:01PM EDT
It's a new locale but the same old story for Toronto FC this weekend.
Greg Vanney's team visits FC Cincinnati (5-20-3) for the first time Saturday, looking for points and some separation in the crowded Eastern Conference standings.
Toronto (10-10-8) goes into weekend play holding down the seventh and last playoff spot in the East by one point over idle Montreal. Five points separate the fourth- and eighth-placed teams.
Cincinnati, which sits at the bottom of the 24-team league, was officially eliminated from playoff contention last weekend in a 3-1 loss at FC Dallas. The expansion team is winless in its last eight games (0-7-1) and conceded 10 goals in its last three outings.
Vanney, whose team is coming off a 1-1 tie in New England, is more concerned about what his squad has to do than the opposition. But he is not taking Cincinnati lightly.
"I think teams at this time of the year that aren't in the playoffs are dangerous teams," he said. "You never really know what they're going to put out there in any given week.
"Plus they've got some guys who are going to be away for international duty -- a couple of injuries, a suspension. It'll be a little bit difficult to predict their group."
Those Cincinnati players remaining are playing for their jobs next year under Dutch coach Ron Jans, who is still looking for his first victory since taking over Aug. 4.
On the Toronto front, new wingers Nicolas Benezet and Erickson Gallardo are beginning to make their mark and Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo seems to have found fresh legs after a rare stint on the bench against Montreal on Aug. 24.
"We've got to stick with what we've been doing well," said Vanney. "We've got to make it difficult for a team like Cincinnati, at their home field, to find anything.
"And then I think it will come down to us finishing the chances that we create -- because I do believe we will create chances just like we did in New England. And if we can be more efficient in front of the goal, we'll certainly take a lot more pressure off of the 90-minute defending game. But we've still got to stay connected and solid defensively."
Cincinnati has given up a league-worst 67 goals this season.
Toronto is without midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Liam Fraser and fullback Richie Laryea, who are away with Canada. But U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter did Vanney a solid by leaving Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Omar Gonzalez in Toronto.
Vanney has holes to fill at fullback with Laryea away and Justin Morrow still dealing with a quad issue. Brazil's Auro and Ashtone Morgan are available with Nick DeLeon and Chris Mavinga makeshift options if needed.
Altidore, who like Morrow missed the New England game, is expected back Saturday.
Cincinnati is without Kendall Waston and Allan Cruz (Costa Rica), Alvas Powell (Jamaica) and Derrick Etienne Jr. (Haiti). Forward Kekuta Manneh is suspended after being red-carded in Dallas.
While Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Westberg gave up a rare poor goal in the tie in New England, Vanney remains confident in the French-born American.
"It's just not as simple as 'Oh, he didn't make a save' and therefore he's shouldn't be in," said Vanney, who prizes Westberg's distribution skills.
Saturday's game marks the first of seven in 22 days for TFC, including the two-legged Canadian Championship final against Montreal. After Cincinnati, Toronto will play at New York City FC, Los Angeles FC and Chicago with a home game against Colorado squeezed in between.
Toronto will then conclude the regular season Sept. 29 at home to Columbus.
Four of TFC's six remaining league games are against teams currently below the playoff line.
TORONTO FC (10-10-8) at FC CINCINNATI (5-20-3)
Saturday, at Nippert Stadium
FORM: Toronto is undefeated in six games (3-0-3) in all competitions. Cincinnati is winless in its last eight league games (0-7-1).
HISTORY: Toronto won 2-1 in the only other meeting between the two. Nick DeLeon scored and set up Jozy Altidore's second-half winner July 27 at BMO Field.