If there’s such a thing as a "good time" to play a game at the best team in MLS, that occasion is this Friday for Real Salt Lake.
Toronto FC, winner of the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup last season, is in the midst of CONCACAF Champions League play and hosts a Leg 1 semifinal game against Club America this Tuesday.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney will do everything he can to keep his players from looking ahead to next week, but what he’s been saying and doing so far hasn’t worked.
While Toronto had success in the CCL quarterfinals beating Mexico club Tigres on an aggregate 4-4, in its two matches surrounding CCL play, it lost at home to Columbus 2-0 and then lost most recently at Montreal 1-0.
Toronto lost at home once all last season, and just five times overall, and already it’s sitting at 0-2 in MLS play.
“I’m pretty surprised. I’m sure they are too,” said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
Coach Mike Petke said he’s surprised as well by Toronto’s slow start in league play, but quickly pointed out that a busy Champions League schedule is probably a contributor.
Seven years ago when RSL made an even deeper run through Champions League, it avoided those MLS hangovers throughout. In its four league games sandwiched between its Leg 1 semifinal against Saprissa and Leg 1 of the championship with Monterrey, Real Salt Lake won all four league games.
RSL will try to keep Toronto’s rut going for one more weekend in league play this Friday (6 p.m., KMYU).
“They’re a good team, we can’t underestimate them. We don’t know what they’re going to come out with, we got to be ready for whatever formation or whoever comes out to play,” said RSL striker Luis Silva.
Toronto trotted out similar lineups in all four games this season, but Vanney might elect to play more reserves on Friday with such a massive match ahead on Tuesday. No MLS team has ever won the Champions League in its current format.
Goals could be tough to come by for both teams. Even though Toronto scored four goals in CCL play, it hasn’t scored in its two MLS games. Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, has scored three goals in three games, but two of those were penalty kicks.
Luis Silva, Marcelo Silva and Adam Henley all missed the win against New York two weeks ago with injury, but they figure to all be available for selection for Petke after getting extra rest with last week’s bye weekend.
Getting a healthy Marcelo Silva and Adam Henley on the field should help RSL deal with Toronto’s talented attacking players led by Sebastian Giovinco.
“He can take a game that there’s nothing in and turn it around on its head and it’s 2-0 in two minutes, he’s just so dangerous. Just when you think you have him quieted throughout the game he comes up and scores,” said Beckerman.
RSL will likely approach the game with a similar mentality that it had against New York, sitting a bit deeper and cutting down the space in the midfield for Toronto to play through.
“I think what we did against Red Bull was great, we got three points and we’re hoping to get three points over there,” Silva said.