TORONTO — At 9:30 a.m. Friday, Toronto FC was planning to train outdoors. An hour later, as snow fell, the practice session was quickly moved indoors — with Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo keeping his tuque on.
Still it's good to be home, especially after an extended pre-season stay in California.
"We're looking forward to be back in front of the fans and starting a new season and a new journey," said coach Greg Vanney.
After conceding a late goal in a 2-2 tie in the season curtain-raiser last weekend in San Jose, Toronto returns to BMO Field for its home opener Saturday against New York City FC. While a cold spell was anticipated overnight — with temperatures feeling like -13 C — the weather is expected to co-operate on the weekend.
The forecast for Saturday's 5 p.m. ET kickoff is 3 C, feeling like -2 C, with only a 10 per-cent chance of precipitation.
It's still a far cry from the comfort of California where the team spent most of its training camp, staying down there for the game against the Earthquakes. But star striker Jozy Altidore, serving as captain in the absence of the injured Michael Bradley, is happy to sleep in his own bed.
"Obviously Cali's cool, the sun's cool, but this is home for everybody, man. What you see out there, we love that, believe it or not," Altidore said, gesturing out the window. "Or we all wouldn't keep re-upping and coming back here. The snow, the rain, yeah it's part of Toronto and we love it."
"We can't wait to get back to BMO (Field) and kind of get going again. And be a team that's feared again throughout the league," he added.
It's Toronto's first home game since a wild 5-1 playoff victory Oct. 19 that ended D.C. United’s season and Wayne Rooney's MLS career. Toronto scored four goals in the first half of the 30-minute extra time — in the 93rd, 95th, 103rd and 105th minutes.
Toronto then won playoff games in New York and Atlanta before falling 3-1 to Seattle in the MLS Cup final in the Pacific Northwest.
After a poor 8-7-2 regular-season record at home in the 2018 season, Toronto improved to 9-4-4 at BMO Field last season. TFC's last home loss in MLS play was a 3-1 setback July 20 at the hands of the Houston Dynamo, with Vanney making seven changes from the squad that had won four days earlier at the New York Red Bulls.
Toronto has gone 5-1-0 at home since.
TFC is an imposing 51-22-17 at home in MLS regular-season play since Vanney took over the team with 10 games remaining in the 2014 season. In its 2017 championship year, Toronto went 13-1-3 at home during the regular season.
"Home has to be a place where we take maximum points as frequently as possible," said Vanney. "And that has to be our mindset. Teams have to feel when they come into here that this is going to be a very difficult place for them to play and a very difficult place for them to get anything out of the game."
NYCFC is coming off a 1-0 loss in Columbus in a game that saw New York defender Maxime Chanot sent off in the third minute.
"They're not going to change the way they play a whole lot," Vanney said. "I know they have a new coach (Norway's Ronny Delia) but the style that Man City and the City group have in general is pretty consistent. They're very good at their positional play. They're very astute in their rotations and how they move."
He says he saw "some vulnerabilities" in transition in NYCFC's 6-3 aggregate win over Costa Rica's AD San Carlos in CONCACAF Champions League play.
"We've got to be good with the ball, a little bit better maybe (and then) some things that we talk about will open up a little bit more than they did in the previous game," said Vanney. whose next win will be his 100th win at Toronto's helm in all competitions. "But we need to continue to work. It's the second game of the season for us. Things aren't going to be perfect. We need to continue to just work through those moments that aren't perfect."
NYCFC was the best in the East during the 2019 regular season, finishing 14 points ahead of fourth-place Toronto at 18-6-10. But its season ended in a 2-1 loss to Toronto in the Eastern Conference semifinal thanks to a 90th-minute Pozuelo penalty at CITI Field.
NEW YORK CITY FC (0-1-0) at TORONTO FC (0-0-1)
Saturday, 5 p.m. ET at BMO Field.
HISTORY: Toronto's regular-season record against NYCFC is an underwhelming 2-4-5 (TFC's two wins were both 4-0 decisions at BMO Field). But it has won all three playoff encounters, outscoring the New Yorkers by a combined 9-1.
NYCFC NEMESIS: Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo has been a NYCFC-killer, scoring two glorious goals and adding an assist in his MLS debut last March in a 4-0 win. He scored both goals in TFC's playoff win over NYCFC last October.
INJURY UPDATE: Toronto will be without designated player Pablo Piatti and Jacob Shaffelburg (both hamstring) and Nick DeLeon (back).
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press