FOXBOROUGH -- The Champions are coming, albeit banged up a bit.
Toronto FC, winners of the domestic treble (MLS Cup, Supporters Shield, Canadian championship) a year ago, makes its way south to Route 1 this weekend (7:30 p.m. Saturday, NBC Sports Boston/WBZ-FM 98.5 HD2) to kick off a Revolution homestand which will encompass four of the next five matches. The Reds, who are expected to have several players missing Saturday with a few knocks, are done with the CONCACAF Champions League, a solid run that ended with a loss to Chivas de Guadalajara on penalties nearly two weeks ago.
It was during that run where Toronto concentrated solely on the continental competition that teams in Major League Soccer feasted on the Reds’ mainly second-choice players. Four losses out of its first five matches -- and remember, the league moved some games around to accommodate the Reds as they searched for North American glory -- isn’t exactly a big deal over the course of a 34-match season; remember what the Revs did in ’14, with nine losses in 11 matches in both the league and the U.S. Open Cup, and they still went on to win the Eastern Conference.
(Of course, having a World Cup hero join your side at the end of that skid helps just a little bit.)
Now that Champions League is done, Toronto is focused on the league, and yes, there is plenty of work for it to do to play catchup and to get in position to reclaim the Supporters Shield. The Reds let a 2-nil lead over Chicago slip away on April 28, and a 2-2 draw against the Fire is a somewhat decent result given the short turnaround from the trip to Mexico.
And last Friday, with nearly a week of rest under their belts, Toronto thoroughly dismantled Philadelphia, 3-nil, to really get their ’18 league campaign started.
Toronto does have a 90-minute piece of business to attend to before it invades Gillette: the Reds welcome Seattle to BMO Field on Wednesday, where a win over the Sounders will see Toronto leapfrog three positions in the Eastern Conference table to seventh. A win over Seattle should tell the rest of the league that it played on borrowed time during March and April.
That extra 90 minutes may be beneficial to a Revolution team who sorely needs an advantage at the weekend: New England found itself beaten off the ball in Montreal last Saturday afternoon, and with vicious counterattacks off turnovers, L’Impact blistered the Revs en route to a 4-2 victory.
And let’s be honest: Toronto is truly a team that is much better in attacking quality than Montreal. Between Giovinco, Jonathan Osorio, and (if healthy) Jozy Altidore, all three of whom have five goals in all competitions (the club as a whole has 22 goals scored in both the league and Champions League), and with the way Giovinco can distribute the football even from up top to set his teammates up for success, the Revs will need to be aware so that last Saturday doesn't occur again.
“They are a very good team, no matter who they play, especially at moving the ball. Whether they play Giovinco as a false No. 9, so to speak, and Victor Vasquez, they can move all over the field,” Revolution manager Brad Friedel said following Tuesday morning’s training session. “Osorio’s really good. They have good movement, but so do we. We can press teams very well; we got off of it for 20-25 minutes against Montreal, but other than that, our pressing ability in high and middle and deep situations have been very good, and we can spring our attacks very quickly, so they will have their hands full against our attack, as well.”
But as Friedel added, if the Revs’ high-press defending style — which is still technically in its infancy, even after nine matches — gets exposed and caught flat-footed like it did Saturday afternoon, there is no “Plan B,” per se.
“(Last Saturday) was very uncharacteristic of our team,” he said. “To do that — we really haven’t seen that in preseason — but sometimes it’s best to go through those little adverse situations, and then you can come through the back side and learn more from it … you are going to go through bumps in the road within its season, but what is really important is that we don’t have one of those episodes straight away.
“The high press gets broken in every game we play. There’s not a Plan A or a Plan B. We try to press, and we have very good transition to the middle in every single one of our games, and we defend from there, and you always put pressure on the ball. It’s not just, ‘Oh, we have a high press,’ and if there’s a Plan B or not, you have to defend all over the field … a team like Toronto is going to break the press every now and again, but that doesn’t mean you quit or give up.”
After Toronto, Columbus Crew SC comes to Gillette May 19; the Revs will head to Vancouver to face former teammate Kei Kamara and the Whitecaps on May 26.
New England then has three matches with short turnarounds: the Five Stripes of Atlanta United FC come to Foxborough on Wednesday, May 30, before welcoming the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, June 2. Then it’s short turnaround No. 3, as the Revs play their U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round matchup on June 6 against a side to be determined within the next fortnight.
In short, the next 35 or so days will be busy-busy-busy down on Route 1.
Friedel gave a brief update on forward Juan Agudelo, who suffered a non-contact hamstring injury during Saturday’s first half.
“It is really early; we’re hoping it’s not too serious. He is going to have a couple further tests, so I don’t really have a time frame. I’m hoping it’s a couple of weeks as opposed to over the month,” Friedel said.
He wouldn’t say who would move into Agudelo’s slot for Saturday’s match against the Reds.
A reminder to all local soccer fans that there are two important mid-week fixtures taking place at both ends of the Commonwealth Wednesday evening, and they are both for spots in the Second Round of the U.S. Open Cup: in Amesbury, Seacoast United Phantoms of the Premier Development League hosts the Bay State Soccer League’s Kendall Wanderers at the Seacoast United Sports Park beginning at 7:30 p.m., while the PDL’s Western Mass. Pioneers host Connecticut’s National Premier Soccer League entrant Elm City Express at Lusitano Stadium at 7 p.m.