TORONTO â€” Unbeaten in three road games, Toronto FC can lay down an early-season marker with five of its next six at home.
It’s an opportunity for strikers Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco to forge a connection with Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez. With Giovinco having missed the last game and a half due to a leg injury, Vazquez has spent just 76 minutes on the pitch with the Italian.
Everyone is healthy for Friday night’s home opener against Sporting Kansas City with coach Greg Vanney looking for his offensive stars to bond.
“I think the potential is exciting,” Vanney said after training Thursday.
Vazquez is a technically gifted player who can see plays develop and drop the ball in on a dime. That will be music to the ears of Giovinco, who has committed more fouls (three) than put shots on target (two) in his injury-disrupted start to the season.
Vanney says Giovinco, restored to health, has looked good in practice.
“To me he’s been as sharp in the last two weeks as I’ve seen him in the entire pre-season and into the first two weeks of the season. I think he’s excited to get back home. I think he’s excited to really get going.”
Vanney believes Giovinco and Altidore are still finding their own chemistry.
“They haven’t had a ton of games together and a consistent run of games together for various reasons. And so I still think that’s a blossoming (relationship). And then you throw in Victor, who’s getting sharper and sharper every day, every week, and his vision for the pass and the way he will combine, I think, with those two and the other guys really makes (for) a lot of interesting possibilities.”
With two goals and an assist, Altidore has been involved in three of Toronto’s four goals this season. The burly striker now has 17 goals in his last 22 regular-season and playoff games dating back to July 31, 2016.
Since joining the team for the 2015 season, Altidore (30 goals, 10 assists in 58 games) and Giovinco (43 goals, 35 assists in 70 games) have combined for 73 goals and 45 assists in regular-season and playoff action.
After starting Alex Bono in goal last time out, Vanney made a point Thursday of saying Clint Irwin remains his No. 1 and that he just wanted to give the talented Bono a chance to see some action. That suggests an Irwin start Friday.
A private jet helped ease the travel burden on Altidore, captain Michael Bradley and Armando Cooper after the midweek U.S.-Panama World Cup qualifier in Panama City.
Still, Cooper’s international duty could give Vanney an excuse to retain Jonathan Osorio in midfield. Osorio too has good vision and combines well with Giovinco. But given Vazquez was brought in for offence not defence, Osorio will have to pay attention to defensive responsibilities.
Toronto and Sporting Kansas City (both 1-0-2) are two of the league’s four remaining unbeaten teams, along with Orlando City and FC Dallas.
In a small sample size, Kansas City has the stingiest defence in the league with just one goal conceded in three games. Toronto is third with two goals against.
Kansas City opened with two scoreless draws before beating San Jose 2-1. The Earthquakes’ goal snapped a 457-minute league SKC shutout streak dating back to Oct. 1.
At the other end of the pitch, Kansas City ranks 20th in scoring with just two goals (one an own goal). Toronto is 12th with four.
SKC has put just 11 of 44 shots on target compared to nine of 24 for Toronto.
TFC ranks 18th in shots and shots on goal. With 10 shots on target, Portland’s Fanendo Adi has one more than the entire Toronto team.
Vanney believes part of the reason for the low number of shots is playing three straight on the road where teams tend to be more conservative.
“It’s not something I’m concerned about,” said Vanney. “(But) it’s something we’ve talked about as a group.”
Influential Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber missed some training this week with a leg injury. Midfielder Roger Espinoza has a lot of miles under his belt after playing for Honduras.
The forecast calls for light rain and four degrees. A sellout is expected at BMO Field.
It’s Toronto’s first outing at home since the painful penalty shootout loss to Seattle in the MLS Cup final Dec. 10. Vanney and his players are looking forward not back, however.
“I think in some aspects we’ve closed the page on last year,” said the coach. “It’s now a new journey and a new start.”
But Vanney has not forgotten one of last year’s lessons.
“We want to take points at home. That’s something we want to turn around this year.”
Defender Jason Hernandez will join Toronto FC 2 for a pair of USL games in Florida to get some playing time.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press