Toronto FC, New York City FC look to even records after tough starts to MLS season

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

TORONTO — The weather has not been helping Toronto FC’s early-season preparations. For New York City FC, a congested schedule has complicated matters for the defending MLS champions.

The two teams, who have both been off since March 19 due to the international break, meet Saturday at BMO Field with identical 1-2-1 league records.

With only defender Chris Mavinga (Democratic Republic of Congo) and midfielder Jonathan Osorio (Canada) away on international duty, Toronto coach Bob Bradley has had the better part of two weeks to work with almost his entire squad. But a stretch of yo-yo weather has made for difficult training conditions.

Toronto managed to practise outside for four straight days last week, albeit dealing with some high winds on one day. This week, they had to go under the bubble for a few days before returning outside Thursday.

“Everybody knows it’s been a little bit rocky, weather-wise,” said Bradley. “Everybody tells me it’s the worst stretch, end of winter leading into spring, that they can remember. But it throws (you) off because your ability to go outside and train in a good way is challenged. But the players have done a really good job of dealing with everything.”

NYCFC has been busy, dividing its attention between league play and the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League in a hectic early-season schedule. After Toronto, the New Yorkers heads to Seattle for Wednesday’s first leg of their Champions league semifinal with the Sounders.

“It’s a byproduct of being champions and I think we should respect and appreciate that in the sense that a lot of teams would love to have our schedule, so we have to embrace it and I think we have,” said NYCFC goalkeeper and captain Sean Johnson.

Toronto downed visiting D.C. United last time out thanks to a 53rd-minute Osorio goal. The victory snapped a nine-match league winless run dating back to early October.

TFC opened the season with a 1-1 tie at FC Dallas before losing its home opener 4-1 to the New York Red Bulls and falling 2-1 at Columbus.

NYCFC lost its season opener 1-0 at the Los Angeles Galaxy, beaten by a 90th-minute goal. It then drew 0-0 at Vancouver in a game in which it had 70 per cent possession and outshot the Whitecaps 19-10 (4-1 in shots on target). It split its first two home games, beating CF Montreal 4-1 before falling 2-0 to the Philadelphia Union.

The New Yorkers have done better in CONCACAF’s elite club competition, dispatching Costa Rica’s Santos de Guapiles and Guatemala’s Comunicaciones FC.

“There have been challenges that we have never been through before and it’s something you learn from,” NYCFC coach Ronny Deila said this week.

“Right now, I don’t know what I would do differently because it’s impossible to know if you haven’t tried something else. But, in general, I think we are in a good place. If we could choose that before we started the season that we have four points in the league and in the semifinal of the Champions League we would be very happy.”

While NYCFC has outscored its opposition 11-5 in four Champions League games, it has been shutout in three of its four league outings. All four of its league goals came in the win over Montreal.

That’s a significant change from 2021, when NYCFC failed to score in just two of its first 25 matches.

With 56 goals last season, NYCFC tied for third in the league with Portland and D.C. United, averaging 1.65 goals a game. At this early stage of the season, it’s tied with seven teams for 17th in league scoring, averaging 1.00 goal a game.

Bradley, sympathetic to NYCFC’s difficult schedule, says the New Yorkers remain a tough opponent.

“They’ve shown moments where you can still see the football they play, the talent that they put on the field,” he said. “They’re deep so that even in certain moments when they have had injuries, other guys step in and do well.”

“They’ve got a lot to deal with but they seem to handle it all really well,” he added.

Toronto is without striker Ayo Akinola and fullback Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, both dealing with knee issues. Akinola is close to returning from reconstructive knee surgery while Marshall-Rutty was due to undergo a procedure Friday to determine damage to his knee.

Kadin Chung, who started in place of Marshal-Rutty last time out, is listed as questionable with a hamstring problem. On the plus side, fullback Jacob Shaffelburg has returned to training and is “in consideration” for selection Saturday. Luca Petrasso, Kosi Thompson and Kobe Franklin are also fullback options.

On Friday, TFC signed Franklin to a short-term loan agreement from TFC II.

NYCFC is missing defenders Anton Tinnerholm (Achilles tendon) and Maxime Chanot (upper body).

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2022

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