Toronto FC interim coach Terry Dunfield has a long memory, it seems. And it includes Whitecaps coach Vanni Sartini.
Dunfield, who played for both Toronto and Vancouver, has not forgotten the colourful Italian’s celebration following the Whitecaps’ penalty shootout win over TFC in the Canadian Championship final at B.C. Place Stadium in July 2022
“I thought what Sartini did was a little bit disrespectful, taking his shirt off,” Dunfield said on the eve of the Whitecaps’ visit to BMO Field on Saturday. “So there’s something there, for sure.”
Bob Bradley, who was Toronto’s coach at the time, didn’t much like it either. But he is now some 6,000 kilometres away coaching in Norway. Dunfield is serving as interim boss until Canada coach John Herdman takes the reins Oct. 1.
The Whitecaps and Toronto are in vastly different places as both return to action after the international break. Vancouver is on the rise while Toronto is struggling to stop a season-long slide.
Vancouver (10-8-8, 38 points) goes into weekend play in sixth place in the Western Conference, just three points out of second place and with a game in hand over the teams immediately above it.
The Whitecaps have lost just once in their last nine outings (5-1-3) in all competitions. In the midst of a stretch of seven straight away league games, Vancouver has picked up seven of a possible nine points in the first three.
The Whitecaps are unbeaten in their last four road games in all competitions and unbeaten in their last four meetings with Toronto.
In contrast, Toronto (4-13-10, 22 points) is mired in the East basement and has won just two of its last 20 matches (2-14-4) in all competitions.
TFC snapped an 10-game losing streak in all competitions in its last outing, a 3-1 win over visiting Philadelphia. The three goals scored in the victory over the Union matched Toronto’s total in the 10 previous losses.
Dunfield believes the win shows TFC is “moving in the right direction and our hard work on the training ground is beginning to pay dividends.”
Sartini is not looking at the standings, saying the Toronto players are playing for their jobs next season.
“I expect a very hard game because the signing of John brought kind of a new life,” he said.
“They’ve had a bad season, that’s nothing new to say, but they have very good players,” he added.
Friday marked the league’s roster freeze day with Toronto electing not to add former league MVP Sebastian Giovinco, who is back training with the team.
“At this stage he’s probably realistically two or three weeks away from roster selection and unfortunately this year we’ve ran out of time.” said Dunfield.
The 36-year-old Italian, who last played in TFC colours in 2018, will continue training with the club.
The Whitecaps made a move Friday, confirming the transfer of Venezuelan forward Sergio Cordova to Turkish side Alanyaspor.
The 26-year-old joined Vancouver in February as a designated player from Germany’s FC Augsburg, signing a three-year contract that included a club option to remain with the Whitecaps through 2026. He departs having recorded four goals and one assists in 26 appearances in all competitions.
“He wasn’t playing the minutes he was hoping for. Honestly he was not playing the minutes we were expecting him to play when we signed him,” said Vancouver CEO and sporting director Axel Schuster.
Ryan Gauld and Brian White, who have 20 goals and 12 assists between them, have been leading the Vancouver attack.
Saturday’s game marks the return of former Toronto wingback Richie Laryea, who may well next season take over the DP slot vacated by Cordova. But fellow Canadian internationals Sam Adekugbe and Junior Hoilett will not see action.
Adekugbe did not make the trip, in what appears to be a load-management move, while Hoilett, whose acquisition was announced Thursday, is meeting up with the team in Toronto.
A win or tie Saturday and Vancouver edges closer to adding to its record book.
The Whitecaps have only gone unbeaten in five straight road games in all competitions just once since joining the league — a six-match run (5-0-1) from August to September 2021. Vancouver also went unbeaten in five matchups (2-0-3) with Toronto from June 2009 to May 2011.
Toronto’s Jonathan Osorio is also on the verge of a milestone.
The veteran midfielder, who had a goal and an assist in the Philadelphia win, is one assist away from 50 over his career. Only Giovinco, with 52, has reached the half-century in assists with the franchise.
Osorio, who has 44 goals and 49 assists in 273 career matches for Toronto, is looking to become the 18th active MLS player to reach 50 career assists. The 31-year-old has six assists in 14 league games this season.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press