TORONTO – In the midst of playing the fourth of five matches in 15 days, Wednesday night’s matchup (8 pm ET | TSN — Full TV & streaming info) between Toronto FC and D.C. United will not be just another game.
Rather, it will see one of TFC’s top offseason signings, midfielder Nick DeLeon, square off against familiar faces on the Black-and-Red, the only other professional team he’s ever known.
DeLeon's option wasn't exercised by D.C. in the offseason, allowing TFC to select the 28-year-old in this past winter's Re-Entry Draft. He spent seven seasons with D.C. after being picked 7th overall in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft.
“For me, no [it is not just another game],” admitted DeLeon. “And I don't think for the team. We've had two losses back-to-back, so this is a very important game to get back on track. It just so happens to be against D.C.”
“Grudge is a decent word for it. I would be lying if I would say this game isn't a little more important for me,” continued DeLeon. “A little bittersweet, but I definitely want to take it to them. Grudge is a good word to use. I can't lose this game, put it that way.”
A man of few words, DeLeon was still processing the situation: “I don't know how to voice it. It's a weird feeling to say the least.”
DeLeon left D.C. shortly after they opened Audi Field, amassing 190 appearances across the regular season and playoffs. DeLeon, who signed an extension four games into his TFC tenure through the 2021 season, noted how the opportunity comes during a slump.
Toronto has lost back-to-back matches against Atlanta United FC and the Philadelphia Union. The lessons from those defeats will be useful in facing Wayne Rooney, Luciano Acosta and Paul Arriola, D.C.’s three-headed attack that Greg Vanney singled out in his pre-match remarks on Tuesday.
“Rooney is an outstanding target forward, a guy they can play up to and he'll link plays, fantastic finisher. Acosta is so busy around the field, if he finds space to move around, pick up the ball, face forward, and play off of Rooney, he becomes a real handful,” detailed Vanney. “We've always got to be present with him, make sure our spaces between the lines are tight enough that when he picks up the ball we can stop his forward moment and progress.”
Regardless, they are up for the visit of Rooney and company.
“It's good to see them come back a little, so to speak – get out of RFK Stadium, in their own stadium,” Altidore said. “And they have a way of playing, an identity; it's great to see. As much as they're our opponents, you like to see teams start to catch up to everybody else, in terms of the players they attract, the product they put on the field. I'm really pleased for D.C. United, the fans and the team. It will be a great game tomorrow night.