The Reds visit the Whitecaps on Friday. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Toronto FC still a ‘top team’ in MLS despite slump: Whitecaps coach

VANCOUVER — Toronto FC may be muddling through a slump, but that doesn’t mean the Vancouver Whitecaps are underestimating their Canadian competition this week.

TFC (5-6-2) suffered a disappointing 2-1 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes last week, extending a winless streak to five games.

Despite the rough patch, Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos said the Toronto’s history shows the club is consistently a force to be reckoned with and his team will be prepared when the Reds visit on Friday.

“I believe that there are seven to eight teams in the league that are just kind of vintage, that are top teams in the league. And Toronto is one of them,” he said at training this week.

“I know what they’re about, I know their core. And we’re always going to respect an opponent like Toronto.”

The Whitecaps (5-6-2) faced a similar slump at the start of the season but have found success recently, taking points from six of their last seven contests.

Defence has been key for Vancouver across the stretch, with the team allowing seven goals in six games this month. Starting ‘keeper Maxime Crepeau has been a brick wall for the ‘Caps, putting up 43 saves in 13 appearances this season.

Dos Santos said his squad has been showing more confidence recently, and the players have proven that they’re committed to each other and to fighting for results. The coach especially liked the second goal in last week’s 2-1 victory over FC Dallas, saying the sneaky back-heel from Fredy Montero that turned into a low shot by winger Lucas Venuto was set up with the kind of possession-based game the club wants to be known for.

“It’s what I want our football to look like,” Dos Santos said.

The ‘Caps recent work hasn’t gone unnoticed in Toronto. TFC coach Greg Vanney said you can tell the players have found stability and confidence.

“They’re a hard-working team, committed,” he said before his team headed west. “They make things difficult. They get numbers in front of the goal, they protect their goal well and they’ve been able to capitalize.”

Scratching out a win on Friday will require the Reds executing better at both ends of the field, Vanney added.

Toronto has only scored twice since their last win against Orlando City SC on May 4.

“When we get into dangerous positions we’ve got to make more of our opportunities,” the coach said. ”And if we can do that against them, I think we can score goals. Because I think we’ll be able to create chances.”

TFC will get some help this week with the expected return of Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, who missed the San Jose loss after getting two yellow cards against Real Salt Lake. The 27-year-old midfielder has five goals and six assists this season.

A week off may have benefited Pozuelo, who came straight to Toronto from his season in Belgium with KRC Genk.

“I think a little bit of rest will have done him well this week,” Vanney said. “It’s been a whirlwind for him since he’s arrived so I think a little bit of rest, also just the hunger to get back out on the field. … He’s a guy who loves to play the game and he’s going to be looking forward to get back on the field and trying to make something done.”

The Whitecaps will be ready for a hungry Toronto side, said Montero.

“The most important thing for us is going to be keeping the level of energy as high as we did last game,” he said. “We know that we’re not the best team in MLS so every game for us is a final.”

Friday’s matchup will be the ‘Caps last before an extended international break, so getting a result is more important than ever, Montero said.

“It’s going to be a long break if we don’t win the game,” he said. ”So for us, all we’re thinking about is winning the three points, having the opportunity to get finally in a playoff spot. That’s what we’re dreaming of.”

TORONTO FC (5-6-2) VS. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (4-6-5)

B.C. Place, Friday

LOOKING BACK: The Whitecaps and TFC faced off three times last year, including in a pair of Canadian Championship matches. Toronto beat Vancouver 7-4 aggregate in the tournament, but the ‘Caps responded in league play, beating the Reds 2-1 last October.

CANADIAN CONTENT: The two clubs have eight players named to Canada’s preliminary 40-man roster for next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. Whitecaps Derek Cornelius, Maxime Crepeau, Doneil Henry, Brett Levis and Russell Teibert are all on the list alongside TFC’s Ashtone Morgan, Noble Okello and Jonathan Osorio.

CELEBRATING HISTORY: The Whitecaps will mark the 40th anniversary of the club’s 1979 North American Soccer League championship at Friday’s game. The ceremony will include former coach Tony Waiters being inducted into the ‘Caps ring of honour.

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