New York City FC are on the road this weekend as they face Toronto FC at BMO Field.
For this edition of 'The Away End' presented by Berkeley College & Rennert International, we spoke to Mitchell Tierney, editor at TFC blog Waking the Red, and Editorial director at DARBY Magazine.
Hi Mitchell, thanks so much for speaking with us. How long have you been covering Toronto FC?
I started covering Toronto FC back in 2014, with my first game being Jermain Defoe's home debut. I'd like to think I brought all the success that followed with me, but it probably had a little bit more to do with a certain Tim Leiweke and the changes he made to the front office. Since then, I've been incredibly lucky to cover this group as they have won multiple trophies, reached continental finals and transformed into one of the better organizations in the league.
What’s been your favorite moment covering the team?
This one is fairly easy, seeing Toronto FC win MLS Cup in 2017 was an incredible moment for both the club and the city. This was especially true considering the way the year before had ended in heartbreak losing on penalties to that very same Seattle Sounders side. A close second, however, would be watching Toronto FC beat Tigres at BMO Field during their 2018 run to the Concacaf Champions League final. That win gave the team the confidence to believe that they could compete with the very best in the region and was just an incredibly memorable night at the stadium.
Looking at the 2021 season, it didn't quite work out for Chris Armas. How do you think interim coach and former NYCFC assistant Javier Pérez has handled things since stepping in?
I think Pérez has done a really good job of just taking things back to basics and allowing this team to find its footing again after a tough start to the year. Toronto FC really just needed a bit of stability after all the injuries, Concacaf run and travel that came with the start of the season. Now that Pérez has been given a little more time to make sure the team is doing the simple things right again we are starting to see him implement more of his vision for this group. Just take a look at the clever set-piece goal they scored against Nashville last week for an example of Pérez doing some more advanced coaching with this group now that they are more comfortable again.
The team are still in with a shout for the playoffs, what do you think they need to do to get above the line?
Without question, the team defending as a whole has to improve. The Reds have allowed too many goals early in games, too many goals late in games and just too many goals, in general, to be successful. With that being said, now that they can play at BMO Field, perhaps the biggest key will be their ability to turn that into a fortress once again and pick up big home results. That and staying healthy, which has been a big concern especially with the team's Designated Players and meant we have rarely seen consistency in the starting eleven.
The team is also now able to play at home in Canada, has there been a noticeable shift since that occurred?
Toronto FC has only lost once since they were able to start playing in front of fans at BMO Field again. This is in no small part due to finally being in a familiar environment with family around and supporters in the stadium cheering them on. Even if the wins haven't come yet, the team has been playing with so much more confidence and flair, looking like the TFC of old versus the group that picked up just one win in their first eleven matches this year. Should Toronto FC be able to turn this season around and make the playoffs, the return home will undoubtedly be cited as the turning point.
From a tactical standpoint, what strengths should Ronny Deila and his team be wary of heading into the game?
Previous to this year it had actually been a bit of a weakness of Toronto FC sides, but their wide attacking play is now lethal. Between Yeferson Soteldo and his game-breaking ability on the left flank, and Canadian international Richie Laryea on the right. Pérez has also started playing with wingbacks recently, which has allowed Laryea in particular to be even freer to roam forward.
Are there any weaknesses you think NYCFC can exploit?
The backline in general has been fairly shaky for Toronto FC this season, particularly in moments of transition. No team in the league has allowed more goals than the reds (36), so given the way NYCFC has been scoring lately, this is most definitely a cause for concern. This has resolved itself a bit since the team stopped playing such a high-pressing style, but goalkeeper Alex Bono has still been called on a few times more than he should in recent weeks.
If you were to identify TFC's danger-man, who would that be?
If they don't already, Yeferson Soteldo is going to be a name every MLS fan knows very soon. The 24-year-old Venezuelan winger is already drawing comparisons to a certain other diminutive Italian former MVP from Toronto FC's past in the way he can just effortlessly dribble past defenders. He has scored or assisted on six of Toronto FC's last eight goals. The scary part is it still looks like he is figuring out his teammates from a chemistry perspective. Once that happens he could make a real case as one of the best players in the league.
And finally, for any fans thinking of making the trip to Toronto in the future, are there any particular attractions you’d suggest checking out?
I think probably the thing that makes Toronto such an incredible city is its multiculturalism. You can find just about any type of cuisine or culture in the city so I would definitely suggest exploring that part. Places like Kensington Market are great for that. The downtown core also has a lot of really cool attractions including a picturesque waterfront, the CN Tower, the Ripley's Aquarium, the Royal Ontario Museum and Toronto Island.