Toronto FC, Whitecaps meet Saturday with limited reinforcements possible

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Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps, who opened the MLS season missing some big names, could get limited reinforcements for their meeting Saturday in Orlando.

But while the Whitecaps will be looking for more of the same following their season-opening 1-0 win over Portland, Toronto is hoping to get back on track after a disappointing 4-2 loss to CF Montreal.

Toronto coach Chris Armas, who said Saturday that TFC "just finished second all day long," was more sanguine about his team in the aftermath of the loss in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where Montreal has set up shop during the pandemic.

"Really just a back-to-work mentality," he said. "Cleaning up and clarifying little details, just so we can keep every day taking small steps together."

Vancouver coach Marc Dos Santos, meanwhile, said while his team did a lot of things well, improvements can be made.

"We don't get too high with these moments," he said. "We won a game, we won an important game against Portland, a game that we wanted to win. But then we have to forget it quickly and start thinking about Toronto."

Dos Santos clearly does not believe Toronto's lacklustre performance against Montreal was representative, saying he had also taken note of TFC's win over Mexico's Club Leon in Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League play.

"We live in a sport (where) people forget really fast. You're good today, you're bad tomorrow. It's a roller-coaster," he said.

He expects Toronto to make the necessary adjustments.

"I'm sure it's not going to be the same team," he said.

Both teams are dealing with injuries and other roster issues.

Toronto remains without two key players in Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo (thigh) and French centre back Chris Mavinga (calf). Defender Julian Dunn (hip), midfielders Liam Fraser (ankle), winger Erickson Gallardo (groin) and forward Ifunanyachi Achara (knee) are also out.

Midfielder Jonathan Osorio (thigh) and star striker Jozy Altidore (thigh) are listed as questionable, although Armas said Thursday that both had been participating in training.

Looking to fill its third designated player slot, Toronto reportedly is chasing Venezuela international winger Yeferson Soteldo. The 23-year-old is currently with Brazil's Santos.

Vancouver will be without defender Erik Godoy (calf), midfielder Leonard Owusu (hamstring) and striker Tosaint Ricketts (hamstring). Centre back Derek Cornelius (knee) has been upgraded to probable after resuming training.

Portuguese-born Angola international fullback Bruno Gaspar and Brazilian midfielder Caio Alexandre are both training after finishing quarantine April 16 and 18, respectively. Dos Santos said while the two newcomers initially had problems adjusting to the altitude in Utah, they were looking better in training.

"We have to be careful with the process," said Dos Santos. "When you want to speed up players too fast, then an injury could occur. And instead of being patient one more week, you lose them for months. We don't want to do that.

"But do we think there's a possibility of them travelling to Orlando this weekend? Yes. But with a lot of communication and with work with our performance team, we'll know exactly when's the right time to to have them in."

Iraqi fullback Ali Adnan, a designated player, remains north of the border due to visa issues.

"It's totally out of our control, it's a government thing," said Dos Santos.

The Whitecaps are prepared for Toronto's aggressive style of play under Armas, a former coach with the hard-pressing New York Red Bulls.

"I see a lot of the Red Bulls, a lot. I see a lot of the ideas that Chris learned at the Red Bulls. He's trying to implement it in Toronto … It's very clear what he wants to do there," Dos Santos said.

"There's no doubt in my head what type of team we're going to face."

The Vancouver coach is also aware of the heat and humidity that awaits in central Florida, where the forecast calls for 30 degrees Celsius for the 3 p.m. ET kickoff.

"You can't recreate the humidity here in Salt Lake," said Dos Santos. "You can't build a soccer field inside a sauna."

Being able to use five substitutions in the game will be key, he added.

The match ostensibly is a home game for Toronto, which has made Orlando its pandemic home this season. Vancouver is based out of Sandy, Utah, home to Real Salt Lake.

Toronto, which finished last season playing out of East Hartford, Conn., starts anew with its 'home opener at Exploria Stadium, where Orlando City SC plays.

Goalkeeper Alex Bono praised club staff for doing their best "to make it as normal as possible."

"But the reality of it is large parts of it will not feel normal," Bono said. "I've been to six TFC home openers in my time here and this is by far the furthest from normality.

"But listen, it's a new season, it's a new home opener, however you want to put it. But we've done this away from home before, so yes it's special because it's a quote-unquote home opener. However, it's just another game for us in this new normality that we've had to deal with for coming on almost a year now, playing away from home.

"It's different, it's difficult but at the end of the day, it's another game. And whether it's home or away, one thing about this group is that we're learning to just take it as a game. Until we're fortunate enough to come back and play in our home city in front of our home fans."


VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (1-0-0) at TORONTO FC (0-1-0)

Saturday, Orlando's Exploria Stadium.

YOUNG GUN: In last week's 4-2 loss to CF Montreal, Toronto midfielder Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty — at 16 years 305 days — became the seventh-youngest player to record an MLS assist. The record-holder is Freddy Adu, at 14 years 355 days (No. 6 on the list is Alphonso Davies, 16 years, 294 days).

LAST SEASON: TFC won two of the three meetings, with 3-0 and 1-0 decisions at BMO Field. Vancouver won 3-2 at B.C. Place Stadium.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2021

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press