Toronto FC to meet championship rivals Seattle on Saturday
Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger (31) slides in front of Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore (17) during first half MLS soccer action in Toronto, Saturday, April 6, 2019. Some 7 1/2 weeks into the season and Toronto FC is hitting the road for just the third time. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, April 12, 2019 12:23PM EDT
Some 7 1/2 weeks into the season, Toronto FC is hitting the road for just the third time.
At the same stage last year, Toronto had been to Mexico and Colorado (both twice) and Montreal. Coach Greg Vanney says there's good and bad to the travel discrepancy caused by the early exit from the CONCACAF Champions League.
“It's been a lot less adventurous,” said Vanney.
The crowded schedule, tough competition and intense travel at the start of the 2018 season meant Toronto was battle-tested early on. This year, Vanney's squad has already had two bye weeks - one due to a international break and another to facilitate a Champions League game that ultimately never happened.
“I feel like we are just kind of getting going, whereas probably last year at this point you were almost ready to catch your breath a little bit because things were going so fast with so much travel associated with it,” said Vanney.
“I like the buildup of things this year ... I still would have liked to have seen us get into the later rounds of the Champions League just to see, as we settled in as a group, what that would look like but it wasn't to be,” he continued. “And I think we're taking advantage of the fact that we aren't flying all over the place and we don't have games every three days.
“It's given us the chance to settle in and get better day by day.”
Toronto (3-0-1) will be get a good gauge of where it's at Saturday when it visits the Seattle Sounders (4-0-1) in a matchup of two of the four remaining unbeaten teams in Major League Soccer (the others are Los Angeles FC and Houston).
The teams have MLS Cup history, with Seattle winning in 2016 and Toronto emerging triumphant in 2017.
The Sounders were slated to play in Colorado mid-week but the game was postponed due to a blizzard warning in the Denver area. Seattle made the trip but, despite the travel, the postponement will likely help players nursing knocks.
Toronto's schedule ramps up next month. After four games in April, it has seven in May with trips to Orlando, Atlanta, Salt Lake City and Vancouver.
“I think we're more prepared this year to manage that,” midfielder Jonathan Osorio said of the coming schedule congestion. “We all know that's coming, but right now the thing that's in our head is Seattle on the weekend.”
Saturday's matchup features two of the league's top offences. Toronto ranks second, averaging three goals a game, while Seattle is tied for fifth at 2.20 goals per game.
“(They're) very, very attacking-minded,” said Vanney. “Relentless in their pursuit of goals right from the start of games, getting numbers forward. Dynamic ... Getting teams on their heels.”
It will present a different challenge from the defence-first approach of Chicago last week in a 2-2 tie in Toronto.
Peruvian international forward Raul Ruidiaz, who scored in each of his first three games for Seattle this season, is questionable (right heel contusion). Veteran defender Drew Moor (groin) will miss the game for Toronto while Brazilian fullback/wingback Auro is questionable (minor semitendinosus strain).
Moor's absence opens the door to Laurent Ciman and/or Eriq Zavaleta depending on which formation Toronto opts for. Vanney says the Seattle artificial turf will not impact his team selection.
While Toronto has only conceded five goals this season, the defending on the two given up against Chicago last weekend did not meet Vanney's approval.
Seattle is coming off a 1-0 win over visiting Real Salt Lake.
TORONTO FC (3-0-1) AT SEATTLE SOUNDERS (4-0-1)
Saturday, CenturyLink Field.
HOT HAND: Toronto's Jozy Altidore has scored in the last three games.
SAFE HANDS: Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei, a former TFC player, has posted back-to-back shutouts and has three in five games this season. Seattle has not conceded a goal in 223 minutes.
TEEN TALK: Seattle signed 15-year-old Sounders Academy alumnus Danny Leyva to a homegrown contract with the first team this week, making him the youngest MLS signing in club history.
CAREER RECORDS: Seattle leads the all-time series with an 8-3-2 record in league play. But two of Toronto's wins have come in the Pacific Northwest.