Toronto FC resolute in CCL focus despite last-place start to MLS campaign

HOUSTON – With nearly a quarter of the 2018 season in the books, Toronto FC sit alone in last place in both the Eastern Conference and Supporters' Shield standings with just three points from their first five league games.

But the defending MLS Cup champions still aren’t too concerned about that at the moment.

What is on the Reds’ minds: The second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final at Estadio Akron on Wednesday, where they’ll try to overturn a 2-1 aggregate deficit against Liga MX side Chivas de Guadalajara (9:30 pm ET; TSN in Canada | UDN, go90.com in US).

With that massive game clearly taking precedence, TFC chose to field a reserve-heavy side in MLS play for the second weekend in a row, dressing only 16 players in Saturday’s visit to the Houston Dynamo while the rest of the team prepares in Mexico.

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The 5-1 rout administered by Houston was the Reds’ fourth league loss of the season; one more and they will match their entire loss total from last season.

Does Toronto head coach Greg Vanney think his side can get back to their winning ways once their CCL run is over? Vanney is sure of it, adding that after Wednesday, his side’s attention will be squarely on the MLS regular season.

“I think we have a good team. Last year, at the end of six games we had seven points, and won the league by 13 or 14 points, so it’s doable. It’s not something we had planned for, but sometimes when you play games in between CONCACAF finals, you have to do what you have to do,” Vanney said.

Vanney in Houston | USA Today Sports Images

“We were fortunate enough that the league was able to move some of the earlier games around but somehow not in the stretch here in the final, so we prioritized trying to win the final for the CONCACAF, and it is what it is.”

While he didn’t field his usual starting 11, the team that Vanney did put out on the pitch gave him something to consider when the Reds’ attention does shift back to the league.

Vanney considered it an opportunity to see players that might not typically get a chance to see the field, adding that he could assess their progress.

Did any player impress him?

Liam Fraser continues to show that he understands his role and is competent with the ball, a very good passer, composed, and I think he did a nice job,” Vanney said, while also singling out the play of Jason Hernandez, 17-year-old Julian Dunn-Johnson and Ryan Telfer.

As for what he expects for Wednesday’s game against Chivas, Vanney said he’s confident his side can get the result they need to lift the trophy in Guadalajara.

“I think we can score goals and we left a lot of opportunities on the table in the last game. We made two or three mistakes in the whole game, and it costs us two goals,” Vanney said. “I’ve watched the game back twice now, and for anyone who doesn’t think we should’ve won that game didn’t watch the same game – and I think I’m pretty critical with our team.”

For TFC, it’s all or nothing on Wednesday night, and only after that will their full focus return to the regular season. And that could be bad news for every other MLS team.