TORONTO – Out on the training pitch Wednesday, Toronto FC got a taste of what MLS Cup might bring as the weather took a noticeable downward tick.
From a balmy start to the week, the temperature plunged to hover around freezing, where it is expected to lurk for Saturday's final between TFC and Seattle Sounders FC (4 pm ET | ESPN and UniMás in USA; TSN and TVAS in Canada). The wind, which always howls louder at the Kia Training Ground than it does at BMO Field, kicked up a notch as well.
“It was cold and windy,” defender Drew Moor said after training. “Reminded me of a couple of MLS Cups I've played in in Toronto. Good for us, I guess.”
For teammate Justin Morrow, it comes with the territory.
“This time of year it's always cold,” he said. “We expect it.”
Though fancies of a warmer spot may dance through players' imagination, temperature is of little concern given the stakes at hand.
“I would rather it be 75 degrees and sunny,” laughed Moor, who is bracing for his third MLS Cup final in Toronto's frigid climate, having also played there in 2010 with Colorado. “But it is what it is. We're used to some pretty cold weather.”
With the match less than three days away, it is the wind that is more likely to cause annoyance.
“The wind is the biggest factor,” Morrow said. “That changes the flight of the ball; it's harder to play balls in the air. We expect the pitch to be good. The grounds crew is amazing. They've done a good job getting [it] ready. We'll be ready to go.”
“We'll have to see what it ends up [like] on game day. Hopefully the snow stays away.”
Unfortunately for Morrow, the forecast indeed contains the potential of a light dusting of the white stuff on Saturday.
“That's cool ... unless it snows a whole lot,” said Moor. “They keep the field heated. It was cold last year in MLS Cup, both teams will remember that. It will be cold this year.”
“Once you get on the field, warmed up, get the blood flow and juices going, you don't think about it. I don't think the weather will be a factor at all.”
Having braved the elements during Wednesday's training session, TFC are certain of one thing: the player who will be most inappropriately dressed is Nick Hagglund, who has yet to meet a long-sleeved shirt or pair of gloves he likes, regardless of how biting the weather.
One thing less certain is how star midfielder Sebastian Giovinco will take to the conditions.
In last year's final, Giovinco was withdrawn early, as the shootout loomed, with fits of cramps hampering his playoff run. And despite his dead-ball accuracy, the Italian has not been his usual threat in these decisive winter matches.
Though TFC head coach Greg Vanney senses something different this time around – the cramps no longer a concern, Giovinco helped craft Jozy Altidore’s series-winner against Columbus Crew SC in the Eastern Conference final – there are two reasons for the past disparity: untimely injuries and challenging conditions.
“You go through an entire season where you are sharp, working, linked up with the guys on the field and then you have some injuries,” said Vanney. “Now you've got to get your fitness back, you've got to play at a different speed because the games are different, space is tighter. You're trying to work out your match fitness, but be sharp at the same time.”
“As the conditions get tougher, he loses a small fraction of what makes him different,” Vanney added. “He's a smaller player, who gains his advantage through intelligence and precision. It's tough to be precise when the field is bumpy, the ball bouncier. Your first touch [that was] 1.5 feet away is now 2.5 feet. A phenomenal player loses one of those little edges he has.”
“Jozy, on the other hand, can physically dominate space, so he might have an extra foot or two that he can use and still pull off a play. Seba doesn't have those. He has inches.”