TORONTO – One down, five to go.
Fresh off a grueling stretch that saw the team play 10 matches over 37 days, Toronto FC are braced for an even busier spell over the coming weeks.
Saturday night's 2-0 win over D.C. United was the first of six matches in a 19-day period for TFC. They’ll get back into action on Wednesday, when travel to Montreal for the first leg of the Canadian Championship final, then return to MLS play two days later at home against New England. The second leg of the Montreal series will follow on June 27, then TFC will have a date at Dallas that weekend before traveling to Orlando City for a midweek match with the Lions.
“We've got a first leg in Montreal, against our big rival, with a trophy on the line. [One] that means a lot to our fans. Even if there wasn't a trophy, two games with Montreal... everybody here knows what that means. [CONCACAF] Champions League is hanging in the balance. There's a lot there,” captain Michael Bradley said after Saturday’s win.
“We're not mailing in games around here. We're stepping on the field every single time looking to win, whatever competition. Given the quick turnaround, we're going to have to have some different guys ready to go. And we will.”
With the fixture congestion, TFC’s much-heralded depth will be tested. That’ll be particularly true next week, when Toronto have just a little over 48 hours between kickoff in Montreal and back at BMO Field against New England. Reserves Jay Chapman, Tsubasa Endoh, Ben Spencer and Jordan Hamilton have been getting valuable minutes in USL with TFC II in anticipation.
Hamilton scored the game-winner for TFC II on Wednesday against Orlando City B, then came on against D.C. and scored Toronto’s second on Saturday. Despite only playing 64 minutes in MLS, the 21-year-old already has two goals and one assist, good for an absurd 2.81 goals-per-90.
Asked how he’ll manage the expected workload coming with TFC’s busy schedule, Hamilton smiled: “I'm not very old, so I keep it pretty fresh. I'm fit, so I'm ready to go when my name is called.”
A yellow card to Bradley in the 68th minute on Saturday may have altered whatever plans Greg Vanney had up his sleeve. The booking was Bradley's fifth of the season and he will be suspended against New England, thus making his availability for the first leg in Montreal “likely,” according to Vanney.
“Yellow card or not, I wanted to play,” said Bradley. “It's up to [the coach], but I want to play every game, compete to win every trophy.”
With Bradley in the side, any concerns over being forced to field an under-strength team against Montreal due to scheduling concerns dissipate substantially. After all, the Voyageurs Cup is the first of the three major trophies TFC have their sights set on this season.
“Winning the Canadian Championship is a priority for us. We'll be ready for it,” goalkeeper Alex Bono said after his fourth shutout of the year. “It was one of our goals coming into the season. We're coming out strong on Wednesday.”
Months removed from a painful MLS Cup final shootout defeat, TFC tops the Supporters’ Shield table and have an eye on returning to the final in December.
“We're confident,” Bradley said of the team’s mood. “We feel really good about the group that we have. That confidence continues to grow, but we're also cognizant that if we drop our guard one percent, we can lose to anybody.
“We feel like we have a really good team; that there's nobody better than us. But they're just words. We've got to back that up, prove that every time we step on the field.”