Toronto FC enters a highly important Major League Soccer home game against the L.A. Galaxy on Wednesday with a familiar face on the opposite sideline.
Galaxy coach Greg Vanney led TFC from 2014-2020, a period that included the Reds winning the MLS Cup, Supporters Shield and Canadian Championship in 2017.
"In a lot of ways, it's like two separate things. It's great to see Greg. His whole staff, you know a few of the guys who played here. Even today as they're walking in to use the facility, it's great to catch up quickly," Toronto midfielder Michael Bradley said.
"But the reality then is once the whistle blows, then it's a huge, huge game for both teams. Obviously, we look at it from our own standpoint and it's a home game. As we come down the stretch here, that gives us a real opportunity to continue to close the gap and try to put ourselves in an even better spot as we come down the stretch here."
The last time the two sides met was July 4, 2019, a 2-0 home victory for the Galaxy. Toronto defeated L.A. three straight times before that and has only lost once to the Galaxy in eight home meetings.
L.A. has not picked up a point in Toronto since March 2013 in a draw.
For Toronto, it's a return home after two weeks on the road, losing to Miami and then taking a 2-0 win over Charlotte on Saturday.
Toronto (9-13-6) and Atlanta (8-10-9) are tied with 33 points, but the Reds hold 10th place in the Eastern Conference with one more win. The New England Revolution (8-9-10) sits in ninth at 34 points and Cincinnati (8-8-11) is eighth with 35 points.
Columbus (8-6-12) holds the final playoff spot with 36 points.
The Reds have six games remaining, with four of their five upcoming opponents currently in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Despite having only lost once in their last seven, TFC will need every point it can get going forward.
“We have to play well, we have to take a lot of points,” coach Bob Bradley said. “Can we go on a really good run, finish all the games off with wins (and) go in as one of the best teams in the league? It’s possible. We focus on that side of things and take it a game at a time.
“I think you'll see over the years that there are good examples of teams that finished the season strong, going to the playoffs with confidence. Others in the league know that, ‘You know what? That's a good team, they're playing well.’ So, we're going to try to be that team."
Going into the match against the Galaxy, Bradley hopes his team could find ways to move the ball quickly.
“On our best days, I think you see fluidity when we have the ball. In the last game, when our midfield had the change, we had good ideas on how to move Lorenzo (Insigne) inside more so that he could be part of some of the buildup play and help us control the game a little bit. So, the fact that he's versatile as a player I think in those ways helps us.
"L.A. is still a team that the way they move the ball, their positional play and the way they spread out, you can feel like sometimes they have the ball a lot and then in those moments you know your pure ability to defend in a mid-block or a low block becomes more important."
Bradley said “there’s still question marks” referring to the health of midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye and striker Jonathan Osorio. Kaye has missed the last six games with a lower-body injury, while Osorio missed the victory over Charlotte due to “not feeling right” according to Bradley.
The Galaxy, who are holding on to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and on a three-game unbeaten run, will present challenges of their own despite TFC’s familiarity with Vanney.
"I think (Gaston) Brugman has come in and become an important player for them quickly. Obviously Riqui Puig is (a) young, really talented player and came on for a little bit against Seattle and then played the other night against New England. (His) pass for the second goal was excellent," said Michael Bradley.
"They still have guys like Victor Vazquez and (Javier Hernandez), whoever they decide to play wide between (Kevin) Cabral and Douglas Costa and (Samuel) Grandsir and Efrain Alvarez that are skilful, talented players. All a little bit different but again, good players. It's a good team with a lot of good players. I think it sets up to be a really good game."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 30, 2022.
Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press