Having delayed their trek to Orlando out of caution, Toronto FC looks to make up for lost time Sunday when they open group play in the MLS Is Back tournament versus D.C. United.
This match was originally scheduled to be played Friday, but the Reds (1-0-1) delayed their trip by three days after a member of their traveling party showed "symptoms" of COVID-19. One positive from the delay was captain Michael Bradley being able to recover from a hip injury that kept him out of the first two contests.
Taking on a more vocal leadership role with both his captaincy and status as American international in recent seasons, Bradley is chomping at the bit for his first match action since TFC lost to Seattle in the MLS Cup final in November.
"For me it's been a long time, too long without a game, so I'm really excited," he told the Toronto Sun. "When you talk about D.C. as an opponent ... they're always organized. They always compete hard. It's never an easy game. Even in certain moments when their backs are up against the wall, they still find ways to make games difficult.
"The playoff game last year at BMO Field was a great example," he added, referring to last year's matchup in which Toronto scored four goals in added extra time to win 5-1. "It didn't look like they had much going and it looked like we had things under control and they were able to find an equalizer right at the end and push us to the brink a little bit. We have respect for them."
Alejandro Pozuelo and Bradley's international teammate Jozy Altidore continue to be the focal points of Toronto's offense. Pozuelo has one of the team's three goals while Altidore has a team-best four shots on target. Midfielder Jonathan Osorio will miss this game due to a quad injury, which creates space for Bradley, and Ignacio Piatti and Erickson Gallardo are expected to provide service on the wings.
D.C. United split their first two matches, losing to Colorado before rallying past expansion Inter Miami CF pre-pandemic. While the 9 a.m. ET kickoff is something unfamiliar to players since their pre-teen days, United coach Ben Olsen is expecting his team to focus on the task at hand.
"This is an exercise in adapting and being ready to roll with the punches," he told The Washington Post. "This was never going to go smoothly. As long as you are prepared for that and don't get too caught up in the twists and turns of this tournament, as long as you have the right mind-set dealing with the hurdles, you'll be okay."
Like Toronto FC, the time off has allowed the Red-and-Black to get some players back in the fold, including playmaker Federico Higuain. It was, however, not enough time for key midfielder Paul Arriola to get back on the field as the U.S. international continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered in the preseason.
D.C. is expected to use a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Ola Kamara likely to lead the line. Winger Julian Gressel will provide service from the right, while Junior Moreno and Felipe Martins will support Edison Flores in central midfield. Bill Hamid did not record a clean sheet in the first two matches, but United's shot-stopper has eight in 18 career matchups versus Toronto FC.
Prior to the playoff meeting last season, the teams played to a pair of draws, including a scoreless encounter win which Hamid made 12 saves. The two sides have played to four stalemates in the last six matches, with each club claiming one win in that span.