A new season in Major League Soccer has reinvigorated Toronto FC, which appears closer to its 2017 MLS Cup-winning form than its 2021 flirt with bottom in the league.
FC Cincinnati capitalized on Toronto’s slump in 2021, winning twice in three games against the Canadian team.
Now the FCC has to deal with a TFC on the rebound twice in five days.
The first of these games will take place on Saturday afternoon in Toronto at BMO Field, where TFC (3-3-2) will take on FC Cincinnati (2-5-1) at 3:00 p.m.
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The clubs will then meet in a postponed game at the TQL Stadium (7.30pm CET) on Wednesday.
On Thursday morning, clubs will have completed their season streak and you can rest assured that FC Cincinnati will be battling a club of a higher caliber than the TFC they faced last year.
Under Bob Bradley, one of the most well-travelled and successful American executives in history, Toronto seems to be being revived.
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“They’re different managers, they’re different ideas and styles in a way,” said FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan. “So I’m not comparing anything from last year to Saturday just because a lot has changed in both groups. I think we’re going to see a lot of similarities just in the ideas of our recent opponent (LAFC) where Bob had a big impact on some of the ideas that he carries over to his (Toronto) group.
“I think we’re going to have some ways to prepare that might be similar to the previous week. And again it will be a challenge based on a group that you can see continue to improve every week. And that’s us. On the road and in a difficult environment, we have to find ways to get results now in these difficult moments.”
Toronto’s most recent game was a thriller by any MLS standard – a 5-4, nine-goal loss to defending MLS Cup champions New York City FC. Jesús Jiménez, the league’s top scorer with six goals, scored twice against NYCFC.
Bob Bradley’s son, Toronto and USMNT veteran Michael Bradley, also scored his first goal of the year.
Earlier on April 16, Toronto inflicted its first loss of the season on then-league leaders Philadelphia Union. Jiménez and Spanish midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo provided the offensive that day.
“You can see our opponents keep improving every week. Maybe not with the result of their last game, but with their ideas with and without the ball, they keep growing and improving,” said Noonan. “We’re prepared for a team that can pursue the ball defensively in a way that can make you uncomfortable. So how do we find solutions to deal with the pressure moments? And then with the ball, a team that has the quality to move the ball quickly. They can hit you through the middle, they can hit you in wider areas when playing with the full-backs. It’s a good test for us. And we know when we step onto the field it’s going to be an intense game and we have to be prepared to match that intensity but also have a certain quality in certain areas of our game, to get a result.”
Back-to-back games with Toronto begin a streak of five games in two weeks for FC Cincinnati.
As if that wasn’t challenge enough, FCC is injury-plagued. Two starters (Ray Gaddis, Ronald Matarrita) were ruled out for Saturday’s game.
Another five players, all of whom could be considered regular starters and contributors – Tyler Blackett, Allan Cruz, Alec Kann, Yuya Kubo and Brandon Vazquez – are listed as questionable due to various complaints.
It’s also unclear which players will be banned from the game due to COVID-19 restrictions at the US-Canada border.
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“Yeah, we’re numbers thin,” Noonan admitted during an interview on Thursday. “But we’ve had a constant theme of having guys ready when they’re called. And we got that in the form of Roman (Celentano), Ian (Murphy), Calvin (Harris). This part I’m happy with, and that helps us further build the confidence of the guys who may not have been given the minutes to come forward and get a job. So we will continue to follow this approach.
Kick off: 3 p.m. ET on Saturday | BMO field; Toronto, Ontario, Canada
TV/Radio/Stream: WSTR Star 64 / ESPN1530 / fccincinnati.com (local), ESPN+
Information about the series: Toronto FC leads the all-time streak with FC Cincinnati with four wins and two losses (4-2-0). FC Cincinnati won last season’s three-game streak by winning two games out of three (2-1-0).
Prediction from Cincinnati.com: Toronto FC 2, FC Cincinnati 1.
Record 2022: 2-5-1, seven points; tied for 14th place in the Eastern Conference; (3-5-1 all competitions)
Goals for: Nine
goals against: 16
Coaches: Pat Noonan – first season with FC Cincinnati
Estimated starting lineup:
Roman Celentano (GK)
John Nelson, left rear
Ian Murphy, centre-back
Nick Hagglund, centre-back
Alvas Powell, right back
Calvin Harris, midfielder
Luciano Acosta, midfielder
Junior Moreno, midfielder
Alvaro Barreal, midfielder
Brenner Souza da Silva, striker
Dominque Badji, forward
Record 2022: 3-3-2; 11 points, tied for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Goals for: 10
goals against: 11
Coaches: Bob Bradley – first season in Toronto
Estimated starting lineup:
Alex Bono, goalkeeper
Chris Mavinga, left-back
Carlos Salcedo, centre-back
Shane O’Neill, be right back
Jacob Schaffelburg, left full-back
Kosi Thompson, right-back
Michael Bradley, midfielder
Jonathan Osorio, midfielder
Luca Petrasso, forward/winger
Alejandro Pozuelo, Forward/Winger
Jesús Jiménez, forward
Players to watch: Obinna Nwobodo, FC Cincinnati midfielder – After the FCC-named player’s acquisition was recently confirmed by Cincinnati, it’s possible he could make his debut for the club in Toronto. That would be a lot of international travel and football papers to get across the finish line in a relatively short time since his takeover from Turkish club Göztepe, but Nwobodo will be available for selection, Noonan confirmed on Thursday.
Remarkable: The visit to Toronto marks FC Cincinnati’s second game against an MLS side led by Bob Bradley. The legendary former Chicago Fire, USA Men’s National Team, Egypt Men’s National Team and Los Angeles FC head coach last faced Cincinnati FC in April 2019 as LAFC boss.
Also noteworthy: After the FC Cincinnati-Toronto FC game at BMO Field, FC Cincinnati 2 (1-3-0) will face Toronto FC II (2-2-0) at the same field for the second time in the current MLS Next Pro season. Kick-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. The teams last met on April 3 at Northern Kentucky University. FCC won the game 2-1.
Of particular interest regarding FCC2-TFCII is how the MLS and MLS Next Pro squad rules affect player availability when teams from both clubs play back-to-back games at 3pm and 6pm on Saturday
FCC2 head coach Tyrone Marshall said during an interview on Wednesday that the club is in contact with league officials to determine the availability of players who may be eligible to dress or play in both games.
“Look, we didn’t have the games scheduled and some of the first-team players who could potentially make the roster have them available for our game,” Marshall said. “Ultimately it’s about the league: the development of the young players, so sometimes there will be conflicts. I think if we can maneuver through the conflict in a situation like this coming weekend, how can we have a player in the squad? that the first team can still play with us in the second team and it’s not our fault that we’re playing right after them.
“The league will grow and learn from that and hopefully make the right choice this weekend.”