Toronto FC players have experienced lock downs, schedule delays, bubble confinement, banishment from their home ground, a mob of injuries and, finally, a snowstorm.
Everyone’s expecting locusts to appear before Sunday’s match against Inter Miami.
It has been that kind of season.
“Cold,” midfielder Nick DeLeon said with a laugh, when asked what it was like to train in a snowstorm, which hammered the Hartford area on Friday. “My toes were numb. It was actually a really weird feeling trying to run with both toes (numb). But you’ve got to do what you got to do. This is the kind of the theme of this year, curve balls getting thrown at you left and right and you deal with it. But on a fun note, there were a lot of snowballs being thrown. Guys were trying to let loose and have fun, get what they needed out of the day.”
And now the Reds are going to try to get what they need out of the final two games of the regular season, starting with an expansion Inter Miami side on Sunday night at Rentschler Field, TFC’s new ‘home’ ground.
Coach Greg Vanney’s squad is limping into the post-season. The coach declined to comment specifically on which of his injured players may be available for Sunday night’s match.
Vanney did say veteran defender Justin Morrow came out of Wednesday’s match with NYCFC with a little tightness. Centre backs Chris Mavinga and Eriq Zavaleta will likely be available to play against Miami.
Not dressed on Wednesday were midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado (hip), forward Ayo Akinola and winger Pablo Piatti (calf strain). Forward Jozy Altidore has a hamstring strain and will not be ready to return likely until the playoffs.
With so many walking wounded, Vanney said the Reds can’t take Miami lightly. Despite being an expansion team, the Floridians are just one place out of a playoff spot.
Sunday’s match is the first all-time meeting between the two clubs.
“They’re an improving team. They have some quality, that’s for sure,” Vanney said. “They are as a group probably still learning a little bit about MLS. But they have players that can hurt you, that are capable of doing brilliant things. They have a very good coach (Diego Alonso) who’s won in a lot of places. He’ll have them organized. We’ll have to play well, we’re going to play better than we did in the last (two) games, have to be more connected than we were in the last game.”
Miami will be missing two key players, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Andres Reyes, because of yellow card accumulation.
“They’re hungry and with expansion teams you don’t always know what you’re going to get,” DeLeon said. “I think the focus is on us. If we come out on the right foot, we put them on their back foot, and we force the play in their half, we can control how the game’s going to go.”
For the first time in months, the Reds will play a match with fans in the stands. A limited number will be allowed inside Rentschler Field for the Miami game. DeLeon, for one, is delighted.
“Sports in general is not the same without fans,” he said. “The game is so much slower. That energy (the fans bring) is real. It’s a real thing that all sports need and are missing. So for us to get some fans on Sunday, I couldn’t be happier. Fans are crucial to the environment to the game and the product on the field.”
Again, the Reds need to get MVP candidate Alejandro Pozuelo going. The Seville native is mired in a three game slump (a season high) where he hasn’t scored or picked up an assist. There were times in the last two games particularly when Pozuelo showed his frustration on the field, failing to record even a shot in those matches.
TFC is a club that’s all about winning trophies and the first one on the line is the Supporters’ Shield, which goes to the MLS club with the most points at the end of the regular season. But with back-to-back losses, the Shield is almost out of Toronto’s reach.
TFC (12W-4L-5D) is second in the race behind the Philadelphia Union and is hoping to bounce back from a 1-0 home defeat to NYCFC on Wednesday. If the Reds lose either of their final two games, the Supporters’ Shield is out of reach, based on goal differential. Philly’s is 23 while Toronto’s is seven.
If the Union lose both its final two games (against Columbus and New England) and the Reds win both or win one and tie one, Toronto gets the trophy. TFC finishes the regular season on Nov. 8 against New York at Red Bulls Arena.
MLS announced this week that points per game will be used to determine MLS playoff qualification after determining that multiple clubs will finish the season without playing 23 matches due to COVID-19 disruptions.
As of now, the Union are averaging 2.1 points per game and TFC 1.95. Winning the Shield is a bit of a long shot, though the Reds have a real shot the MLS Cup trophy and the Canadian Championship.
“Trophies are important, period,” DeLeon said. “They don’t come around often. But for me, more importantly is we got to get back on the right foot. And I think the game against (NYCFC) was a step in the direction. We were playing with a little more bite, which we were lacking in the previous game. (The Shield) is important, but I think in the grand scheme, (what’s more important) is getting some guys back healthy and getting a full group back together and going into the post-season as strong as possible.”