TORONTO — Fresh off a disappointing Major League Soccer result last week, coach Greg Vanney wants to see renewed commitment from his Toronto FC players in their Canadian Championship semifinal against USL club Ottawa Fury.
The three-time defending Canadian champs lead 2-0 on aggregate after a victory at TD Place in the first leg last week. Toronto is in the driver's seat ahead of the rematch at BMO Field on Wednesday night.
"Everything is important in this stretch," Vanney said following training on Tuesday. "You're really feeling the urgency and with so much happening, everyone is engaged with the possibility of getting into the lineup."
It is Toronto's fourth match out of a five-game stretch over 15 days. The team will field a lineup identical to one the Fury saw last week in Ottawa. Designated players Alejandro Pozuelo, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore are all likely to sit out.
At training, much of the roster split into two. One group of players prepared for Ottawa, while the others had their sights set on a road match against the Columbus Crew on Saturday.
"For us, it's really important that we don't take anything lightly," Toronto keeper Alex Bono said. "We know how important this tournament is. This is our only path to get back into (CONCACAF) Champions League."
A 1-1 draw with visiting Orlando on Saturday felt like a loss for Toronto (9-10-6). The Reds currently sit eighth in the MLS Eastern Conference, one spot out of a playoff spot and tied with the Montreal Impact (10-13-3) in points (33). Montreal occupies the final post-season position with more wins.
The draw also took some momentum away from the club, which performed well on the road against Ottawa.
"We have to set the one early," said defender Drew Moor, who scored a goal against the Fury last week. "Early in the game, it's going to be important to let know that they're not going to come in here and get anything."
A lack of urgency from start to finish has hurt Toronto FC this season.
"I think we see it in flashes, we need to see it over 90 minutes," Vanney said. "In the first half the other night, we weren't as aggressive and we didn't play with the urgency early on."
Lately, Toronto FC has missed results based on errors in transition, ones that the manager says his team can fix with some aggression and better decision-making.
"Dealing with counters like the one on Saturday, we have multiple resources. We can foul, we can use offsides to end it," Vanney said. "The problem is we could have used a number of tools to deal with this. These are just professional decisions that we need to be more consistent on."
Toronto FC has just nine league matches remaining with only three of them left at BMO Field.
As defending Canadian champions, Toronto earned a bye into the semifinal round, while the remaining three semifinalists had to play their way in, a departure from last year's tournament format. The change was made to accommodate the debut of the seven-team Canadian Premier League, which launched earlier this year.
TORONTO FC (1-0-0) VS. OTTAWA FURY (1-1-1)
Wednesday, BMO Field
BATTLE OF ONTARIO — Ottawa won the very first match between these teams, a 2-1 home win against Toronto on May 23, 2017. Since then, Toronto FC has won the next four head-to-head encounters.
HEALTHY LINEUP — Toronto FC has a fully healthy lineup at their disposal. The only injured player, midfielder Nick DeLeon missed one game with a hip injury but has returned to full training with the team.
OTTAWA CONFIDENT — Despite the loss at home, Ottawa stats showed they had ball possession at 58 per cent and created six shots against TFC last week.
UNBEATEN STREAK— Toronto FC have won eight consecutive Canadian Championship, a string that began following the mentioned loss to Ottawa in 2017.
David Alter, The Canadian Press