After falling short in the MLS Cup Final to the Seattle Sounders last year, Toronto FC has a lot to prove in 2020. The Reds kick off their season Saturday at 5:30 pm ET against the San Jose Earthquakes, before returning home seven days later to host NYCFC.
A familiar persona will be back leading the way, as head coach Greg Vanney returns for his seventh season as bench boss. Meanwhile, forward Jozy Altidore and club captain midfielder Michael Bradley head into their sixth and seventh seasons, respectively, as the on-field faces of Toronto FC. However, Bradley is still dealing with an ankle injury, giving Altidore the captain’s armband for the time being.
And the truth is: TFC should be pretty darn good. This is a team that’s made the playoffs in four of five seasons, with an MLS Cup and three finals appearances in that timeframe. Without a CONCACAF Champions League campaign to clog up their schedule, Toronto FC should have their eyes set on another deep playoff run.
Speaking with TSN, Vanney believes that such a push is possible with a similar cast of characters.
“I think this group now believes that they’re ready to win a championship again,” Vanney said. “So now it’s about the work that we put in on the field, showing up every day, challenging each other and getting better. But there’s no question marks about whether or not we have the right pieces.”
The official league website puts TFC fifth in the preseason power rankings, while initial betting odds also list Toronto as the fifth-most likely team to win the MLS Cup. They’re not the dominant, record-setting force they were when they hoisted the trophy in 2017, but all things considered, Toronto looks set to embark on a successful campaign.
The new man in town
While it isn’t as big a splash as previous signings, 31-year-old winger Pablo Piatti joined the team earlier this month as the team’s third designated player, following in the footsteps of Altidore and Spanish forward Alejandro Pozuelo.
The Argentine has experience with Spanish clubs Almeria, Valencia, and Espanyol. On a one-year contract (with an option to extend to two years), he also suited up for one game with the Argentinian national team in 2011.
However, a hamstring injury has delayed his debut, with no clear timetable as to his return.
Bradley actually restructured his contract in order to fit Piatti into a designated player role (each team is only allowed three), which shows you that his teammates clearly already have set the bar fairly high for Toronto FC’s latest acquisition.
Outside of Piatti, it was a pretty quiet offseason for the usually-active front office.
Stability after a year of change
Last season TFC sold franchise player Sebastian Giovinco to Saudi club Al-Hilal, despite his desires to sign a long-term deal. Key winger Victor Vazquez also signed a deal with Qatari club Al-Arabi SC before the year began.
But it didn’t seem to matter much at all, as Toronto kicked off the MLS season with three victories in a row. In the Canadian championship, they managed to push the final to extra time before falling to the Montreal Impact in a shootout.
TFC finished the MLS season fourth in a tight Eastern Conference, and ended the regular season on a high as they did not lose any of their final 10 games. Pozuelo finished 12th in league scoring with 12 goals.
Once the playoffs came around, Toronto FC continued their momentum with victories over DC United, NYCFC, and Atlanta United to send them to their third MLS Cup final in four seasons. It wasn’t their day, however, as they suffered a 3-1 defeat, with all four goals coming in the second half.
They came agonizingly close to the second championship in franchise history, and yet there’s even more reason for optimism this season.
Things to look forward to
A celebration of our past, future and the city that has supported us through it all.
— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) February 6, 2020
Toronto FC debut a new away kit this year, a white/grey combination that highlights many of Toronto’s boroughs and surrounding areas of the GTA on its sleeve.
In terms of games to look ahead to, two expansion teams enter MLS in 2020, with Nashville SC and Inter Miami both making stops at BMO Field this year on March 14 and May 31, respectively. Rivalry matchups are still a little down the road, with Montreal visiting Toronto on June 13.
BMO Field’s food options are always a hit with the fans, even if there don’t appear to be any new announced upgrades. For a personal favourite, check out the Panini stand outside sections 108, 123, and 207.
If there’s one theme that is carried through this year for Toronto FC, it’s familiarity, both on and off the pitch. There’s few big changes announced, but for supporters, they’re hoping they’ll find the team able to ride that sense of comfort into another lengthy postseason run.