On one hand, you can say that the Union are catching Toronto FC at a good time considering they’re injured and feeling the after-effects of a grueling run through the Concacaf Champions League.
On the other hand …
“We have to go now on the road now to Toronto to [face] probably what is the best roster MLS has ever had,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said.
“They have some injuries, we recognize that,” Curtin said leading up to Friday night’s game vs. Toronto FC at BMO Field. “But it is a deep team that is very well-coached by Greg Vanney and just did some pretty amazing things in the Championship League and is hungry for points.”
Like everyone else associated with MLS, Curtin watched in awe as Toronto came agonizingly close to winning the CCL, the premier competition for club teams in North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Led by Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore — three of the best players ever to play in MLS — TFC knocked off two Mexican powerhouses before losing to a third, Chivas Guadalajara, in the final, on penalty kicks, last week.
Had they won, they would have been the first MLS team to prevail in the competition and advance to the FIFA Club World Cup.
“You can tell they’re the elite club in our league,” Curtin said. “They’re the champions of our league. They probably had the best performance I’ve ever seen an MLS team have in Concacaf. Full credit to them, but we hope they have a letdown this weekend.”
A letdown is certainly possible, considering the stakes of a regular season MLS game are much smaller than a major tournament final. Plus, the defending MLS Cup champs are dealing with some injuries from their tourney run, including one to Altidore (hamstring) as well as a slew of defenders.
In their first MLS game since the CCL ended, Bradley, a natural midfielder, was forced to play center back in Toronto’s 2-2 home draw with the Chicago Fire last weekend.
“Michael’s career speaks for itself,” Curtin said. “He’s a top player in our league, a guy that has the ability to run and control the tempo of the game. ... We’re prepared for him at center back; we’re prepared for him as the No. 6.”
Union captain Alejandro Bedoya, a longtime teammate of Bradley’s on the U.S. national team, may play a role in slowing down the Toronto captain. Bedoya — who’s scored two goals in Toronto, including one in the 2016 playoffs — will also be asked to help the Union maintain possession as well as they did in last week’s 3-2 win over D.C. United as they attempt to open a three-game road swing with a huge upset.
“When you look it up, we are one of the better possession teams in the league, and toward the top in chances created,” Curtin said. “If you play the percentages over the course of the year, we know that some of those chances with start to go in the net.”