The 2021 MLS season shows no signs of slowing down and next up for New York City FC is a home match against Toronto FC.
For this edition of ‘The Away End’ we spoke to Joshua Kloke, a staff writer with The Athletic and author of Come on You Reds: The Story of Toronto FC.
Hi Joshua, thanks so much for speaking with us, how long have you been covering Toronto FC?
I’ve been covering the team in some form since 2015. The arrival of Sebastian Giovinco, and the season he had in 2015 certainly turned a lot of heads within an already crowded sports landscape in Toronto, and it was around that time that more and more outlets wanted to understand the phenomenon.
What’s been your favorite moment covering the team?
Two come to mind. I’ve been fortunate enough to cover some memorable nights in Toronto, including the Toronto Raptors trip to the NBA Finals, but the second leg of TFC’s Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Impact was one of the more compelling games I’ve ever witnessed live.
There was a wind coming off the lake and an expectation that this TFC team would, of course, blow it again. But the sound of a delirious fan base seeing their team overcome a two-goal deficit against their rivals was one I don’t think any in attendance will forget.
And just as a fan of the game and its stadiums, getting to cover the 2018 Concacaf Champions League final between TFC and Chivas at the Akron Stadium in Guadalajara was a treat. Crowds congregating for hours beforehand outside and the kind of loud, intimidating atmosphere that might have been the difference on the night.
When my toddler son wants to watch “something loud,” I still show him videos of the game on my phone.
Looking at the 2021 season, there’s a new manager in Chris Armas and a Designated Player in Yeferson Soteldo. How have things started for TFC this season?
Not great. There has been a disconnect so far between the aggressive, high-intensity style of play that Armas wants to see, and what his players have delivered. TFC are winless through their first three MLS games for the first time since 2012, as they’ve struggled to create much in possession.
They’re far from full strength, however, as reigning MVP Alejandro Pozuelo has yet to play due to an injury, Jozy Altidore has battled injuries and new DP signing Yeferson Soteldo has only made one appearance. We still need more time to better understand what this team is capable of.
There’s a familiar face for NYCFC fans in Patrick Mullins. How has he got on in Toronto?
Mullins is well-liked by his teammates for his professionalism and is often relied upon to create chances late in games. I’ve always liked my face-to-face conversations with him as well. (Remember those!?)
As we mentioned, Chris Armas became Head Coach earlier this year. What have you made of his early months in charge?
Armas embodies the energy that general manager Ali Curtis wants to see in his team. He’s given his young players plenty of meaningful minutes in games, which is something that didn’t always happen in the past at the club.
My sense is he understands the pressure and responsibility of working for a club with constant championship aspirations, but in that regard, there’s some frustration that that energy has not yet translated into wins.
After a loss to New York Red Bulls last weekend, Armas said postgame that there’s a sense within the team that they’re “giving away some games.”
From a tactical standpoint, what strengths should Ronny Deila and his team be wary of heading into the game?
If Yeferson Soteldo gets his first start for TFC, I’d bet on him attacking from the flank with his dribbling prowess repeatedly. The team probably wants to give him some freedom in the final third, and Soteldo is likely eager to showcase why TFC paid approximately $6-million for his services.
He’s shown himself to be a dangerous attacker in Brazil’s Serie A. Many in Toronto are interested to see if those attacking skills translate to MLS.
Are there any weaknesses you think NYCFC can exploit?
TFC sometimes suffer from a lack of speed throughout the middle of the pitch. If NYCFC can play direct and create turnovers in the midfield, they’ll better their chances of scoring.
If you were to identify Toronto's danger-man, who would that be?
TFC’s lineup is often rotated depending on who is healthy. They’ve continued to suffer with injuries. But if any of their young, pacey wingers, from Jayden Nelson to Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty play, they’re capable of lighting a game up, very quickly.
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?
Get out of the downtown core. Head west to The Junction for some of the city’s better breweries. Head east for the views and the hikes near the Scarborough Bluffs. Head north for the bakeries and pizzerias on St. Clair West.