For Toronto FC coach Chris Armas, Saturday's visit to face the New York Red Bulls represents a trip down Memory Lane — and a chance to see his family.
"First and foremost I get to see my wife and my children," said Armas, a father of two who served as Red Bulls head coach from July 2018 to September 2020 after being elevated from assistant coach. "I haven't seen my children in three months or so. My wife came to Canada just for a short stretch there. That's probably the top of the list.
"The second thing, yeah, it's the club I was at for six years. But honestly it's really about going there and getting our season going."
Toronto (0-1-1) has been focused on the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League of late. But that run ended Tuesday in a 4-1 aggregate quarterfinal loss to Mexico's Cruz Azul.
"It's been a great start to the year in terms of just being in real games, where every play matters and every set piece — the whole bit," said Armas, who succeeded Greg Vanney at the TFC helm in January. "But now we can turn our focus to the MLS season and that's probably the most important thing in terms of the game on Saturday."
Toronto started the season with a lacklustre showing in a 4-2 loss to CF Montreal. That was followed by a 2-2 tie with the Vancouver Whitecaps, with Jonathan Osorio pulling TFC even with an 83rd-minute goal.
Armas should have more weapons at his disposal Saturday.
Newly signed designed player Yeferson Soteldo joined training Thursday after completing quarantine and Armas says the Venezuela international winger is available.
"We're excited he's an option for the game," said Armas.
Influential centre back Chris Mavinga played 45 minutes against Cruz Azul in his season debut after recovering from a calf issue.
While Jozy Altidore missed the Champions League game because he was not feeling well, Armas said Thursday it was not serious. But the star striker was listed as unavailable due to illness on TFC's injury report Friday
Osorio also only played 45 minutes against Cruz Azul and was seen with a ice-pack on his thigh when he came off. Armas described it as "some tightness but no injury."
Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, who has yet to see action due to a thigh injury, is back training but not yet ready to play.
"He's getting close. He's not there yet," said Armas. "But we all want him back — yesterday."
The Red Bulls (1-0-2) are missing midfielders Florian Valot (knee) and Youba Diarra (hamstring). Polish youth international striker Patryk Klimala, formerly of Celtic, is still awaiting the necessary paperwork to play, according to the Red Bulls.
Asked about the emotion of Armas' return, Red Bulls coach Gerhard Struber said his team has "no time, no energy to look too much at personal topics of the opponent or what was the past of Chris Armas — whatever."
Armas has brought the Red Bulls' trademark aggressive pressing style to Toronto. But he says the New Yorkers have shown several different systems under Struber.
"But I think what doesn't change is the philosophy (with) which they play. With Gerhard as coach, you can see they're very strong in the identity of playing with intensity and pressure … I think we'll have our hands full against a team that's hard to play against, that's clear."
Toronto will be keeping a close eye on 17-year-old Red Bulls midfielder Caden Clark, who has scored in two of New York's first three matches of 2021. TFC saw firsthand how dangerous Clark is last October when he hammered home a long-distance rocket to give the Red Bulls a 1-1 tie.
It marked his second MLS goal in as many career games, with the first coming four days earlier, just hours after he signed a first-team contract.
Clark, the fifth-youngest player in MLS history to score on his debut, has four goals in his seven starts across all competitions.
"I see very day a player who is very, very hunger for his personal next step," said Struber, a native of Austria. "He's coachable … It's necessary for a young talent. He's not relaxing after a good game or relaxing after scoring a goal, he's ready for the next step."
Saturday's contest is the first of five straight in May for Toronto against Eastern Conference competition, including two games against defending champion Columbus.
"It's important for use to get a rhythm, build some momentum, keep getting on the same page, get guys healthy, keep gaining clarity, execute in big moments in all facets of the game." said Armas.
"So every game's an opportunity for us to improve, but we want to start accruing some points … It's important for us to start getting some victories. It makes the food taste better."
TORONTO FC (0-1-1) at NEW YORK RED BULLS (1-0-2)
Saturday, 1 p.m. ET at Red Bull Arena.
FORM: The Red Bulls snapped a two-game losing streak with a 2-0 win over visiting Chicago last weekend. Toronto, which had an MLS bye last week, is coming off back-to-back losses to Mexico's Cruz Azul in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.
HISTORY: Toronto is 2-13-2 all-time in away matches with the Red Bulls. The New Yorkers hold a 10-1-2 edge at Red Bull Arena, outscoring TFC 30-8 with seven clean sheets.
TIES: Toronto's Jozy Altidore (2006-08) and Michael Bradley (2004-05) both played for MetroStars, who went on to become the Red Bulls, early in their careers.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2021