TORONTO — Reinforcements are on the way for an injury-plagued Toronto FC side that struggled mightily over the first half of the Major League Soccer season.
The players can't return soon enough.
The team is mired in a six-game winless skid and will need a strong second half to get back in the playoff mix. The long injury list includes Jozy Altidore (foot), Drew Moor (quad), Chris Mavinga (hamstring), Victor Vazquez (knee), Auro Jr. (hamstring) and Gregory van der Wiel (Achilles).
Specific player return dates had yet to be finalized after Monday's practice in hot, muggy conditions at the team's northwest Toronto training facility. But the lineup will soon look more like the squad that won the 2017 MLS Cup and enjoyed a deep run in the CONCACAF Champions League earlier this year.
"We could be as close to whole as we've been in a long, long time over the next two weeks," Vanney said. "Again, that's our hope. We should get some guys back this weekend. We should get a lot more back by the next weekend."
Vanney has been forced to turn to backups and slot some regulars into different positions in recent weeks. Toronto FC (4-11-4), which dropped a 2-1 decision in Orlando over the weekend, has one victory in its last nine games.
First up this week is the opening leg of the Canadian Championship semifinal on Wednesday in Ottawa. Expect regulars like Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco to sit out as they rest ahead of Saturday's MLS game against the 6-10-5 Chicago Fire at Toyota Park.
TFC's only win over the last two months was a 2-0 decision over Philadelphia on June 8. They have racked up four losses and two draws since.
"Through this whole stretch we've lost every game by one goal," Vanney said. "We haven't played the quality of soccer that has come to be known of this team.
"In the last couple of games, I think just the mindless loss of possession and the over-exertion has then led to I think a group that has looked tired at times — and late in games. I think that's the summer (heat) taking a toll when you're not efficient. So we've got to tighten things up."
Goalkeeper Alex Bono felt the timing of the domestic semifinal could be a good thing for TFC.
"It's nice to get your mind off of what's happening in the league right now," he said. "Obviously it's been difficult for us. Just going in and seeing a new team, seeing faces that we don't see, playing in environments that we don't usually play in, it's nice to switch it up and see a change."
The second leg of the semifinal will be played at BMO Field on July 25. Vancouver and Montreal will meet in the other semifinal.
Toronto FC has only 16 points this season, good for 10th place in the 11-team MLS Eastern Conference. Only D.C. United is worse and that team is just two points back with four games in hand.
Vanney wants to see him team improve its transition game and eliminate unnecessary breakdowns.
"Too many times we're trying things we don't need to try," he said. "We're just losing balls mindlessly. That's got to be cleaned up because it's killing us physically and then we see obviously some mistakes out of some of those situations as well."
Toronto FC was riding high at the start of the 2018 season after its first MLS Cup title. The team reached the final of the CONCACAF Champions League last April before falling to Chivas Guadalajara on penalty kicks.
The additional games and increased travel didn't do TFC any favours on the MLS front. Injury woes and inconsistent play have prevented the team from building any momentum in league play.
Now the pressure is on and the clock is ticking.
"We've got to start winning games in runs, not just one here and one there," Vanney said. "We've got to get on a solid run to get ourselves back into contention."
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press