Buoyed by back-to-back home victories, Toronto FC looks to win on the road Saturday when it visits Real Salt Lake.
History is not on TFC's side when it comes to Utah, however. Toronto has not won in the Beehive State since its first visit there, a 2-1 victory in July 2007. Since then, Salt Lake has won eight of nine (8-0-1) when TFC comes to visit.
"It's never an easy place to go," said Toronto captain Michael Bradley. "Obviously you deal a little bit with the altitude. And it's a team that regardless of how they're doing, the fans come to the stadium and create a good atmosphere.
"It's a game we're looking forward to. We know that they're a team that has started the season pretty well and so we're excited to try to go and take our football and see if we can continue a good stretch for ourselves."
Toronto has been almost as dominant at BMO Field against RSL, holding a 5-1-3 edge there in all competitions.
Salt Lake, which is coming off a 1-1 draw in Colorado, enters weekend play second in the Western Conference at 3-1-2 with 11 points. Only East-leading Philadelphia and West-topping LAFC (both 4-0-1, 13 points) have more points at this early stage of the season.
Toronto (2-2-1, seven points) stands seventh in the East after back-to-back 2-1 home wins over D.C. United and New York City FC.
Bradley believes TFC is heading in the right direction.
"We feel good about the progress," said the skipper. "There's still a lot to do. A lot of things that we look at and feel like need to continue to get better. But for a new team, for a young team, early in the season to be able to find ways to win games and pick up points, that part's really important. It's important for confidence, it's important just to give a little bit of confirmation and belief to the work that we're doing every single day."
Salt Lake will test that. It has not lost a home match to an Eastern Conference opponent since July 2017 when it was beaten 1-0 by Orlando. RSL has gone 10-0-4 at Rio Tinto Stadium against Eastern Conference visitors since.
"Always a difficult place to play," said Toronto coach Bob Bradley, Michael's father. "I think that little bit of altitude is a factor. Players feel it a little bit physically. Normally they can run through it. The ball flies a little bit … And then over the years, Salt Lake at home, they have confidence, they play always with a hard edge. They've always had some good players, still do."
In 2021, RSL was 9-4-4 at home, a club record, with seven straight victories.
RSL's home record since opening Rio Tinto Stadium in October 2008 in suburban Sandy is an impressive 148-43-46 across all competitions. That translates into a 62.4 winning percentage.
Contrast that with Toronto's 106-69-68 league record at BMO Field (43.6 winning percentage) and 48-133-61 away (19.8 winning percentage).
Salt Lake has won both of its home outings to date this season. Toronto is 0-1-1 on the road, with a 1-1 tie at FC Dallas accounting for the lone away point.
While Toronto snapped a nine-game winless streak dating back to early October with the consecutive home victories, it has not won in its last 10 away games (0-7-3) since a 2-1 win in Chicago in early July.
Its last victory at a Western opponent was September 2017 at the Los Angeles Galaxy, albeit with limited meetings with Western foes during the pandemic-disrupted 2020 and '21 seasons.
Toronto is without wingback Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty (knee). Forward Ayo Akinola (recovering from knee surgery) and Kadin Chung (lower body) are listed as questionable.
RSL's injury list is longer with Zack Farnsworth (ankle), Justen Glad (hamstring), Bret Halsey (ankle), Erik Holt (foot), Johan Kappelhof (calf) and Jonathan Menendez all unavailable. Nick Besler (nose), Aaron Herrera (calf), Jasper Loffelsend (hamstring), David Ochoa (quad) and Bobby Wood (hamstring) questionable.
Last week in Colorado, 17-year-old centre back Jaziel Orozco became the youngest RSL player to start a Major League Soccer match. The Mexican youth international was five days younger than Freddy Adu who made his first start for RSL in 2007.
It's “Utah Jazz Night” at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2022.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press