MLS·Preview

Impact lose Jukka Raitala to broken leg ahead of MLS opener

Montreal Impact captain Jukka Raitala will be sidelined 2-to-3 months with a broken bone in his right leg.

Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto all begin season on Saturday

Montreal Impact captain Jukka Raitala, right, will miss the first two to three months of the MLS season with a broken leg. (AFP via Getty Images)

Montreal Impact captain Jukka Raitala will be sidelined 2-to-3 months with a broken bone in his right leg.

The 31-year-old Finnish central defender was hurt when he collided with a Saprissa attacker in the fifth minute of Wednesday's CONCACAF Champions League match.

Montreal said Friday he fractured his right fibula and will be sidelined 8-to-12 weeks.

Impact coach Thierry Henry said he would like to see additional reinforcements but would not reveal if any signings were in the works. The former Arsenal striker is trying to get Montreal back to the post-season for the first time since 2016.

"Hopefully, but the only thing I can do is coach," Henry said before practice on Friday. "Whoever I have, that's what I'm going to try to do. It becomes even more complicated because, at the moment, we're playing five at the back.

"We have to do our best with what we have. Three years without playoffs, and we haven't added that many players. We have to fight."

Central defender Rudy Camacho injured a knee last week.

Montreal advanced on away goals following the 0-0 draw and plays the Honduran club Olimpia in the quarterfinals. The Impact open their Major League Soccer season at home Saturday against New England.

Off-season of change for Whitecaps

The Vancouver Whitecaps are hoping that young legs will lead to improved results as their 10th season in Major League Soccer kicks off on Saturday night.

Vancouver finished 23rd overall in the 24-team league last season with a 8-16-10 record. A raft of off-season changes has the Whitecaps entering the new year with an average age of 24.1, the youngest team in MLS.

"I'm bringing the average up, which is just wild to me," laughed 25-year-old defender Jake Nerwinski, who is starting his fourth season with the club. "I think that we have a lot of good young guys. We had a really good pre-season, worked on a lot of things that we needed to. We're ready to go. We're ready to fly."

The Whitecaps posted a 3-2-1 exhibition record as the club worked to establish its aggressive new high-press playing style, using the counterattack to create chances by pressuring opposing defences.

In pre-season, that offence was led by new designated player Lucas Cavallini. The 27-year-old Canadian striker, who has played abroad for the last 11 seasons, was acquired in December from Club Puebla in Mexico's Liga MX for a record transfer fee.

United effort

For midfielder Russell Teibert, who has been with the Whitecaps since the club's inaugural MLS season in 2011, success in 2020 will come from a united effort.

"I think you're going to look at the team as a whole," he said. "From the 11 starting and the guys coming off the bench, I'm talking about the mentality. We want to show the teams in the league and our fans that we're really going to go for it this season."

Now in his second season with the club, coach Marc Dos Santos acknowledged that he was "in the dark" at this time last year, as he scrambled to assemble his opening-night roster.

"This year, I know exactly what I'm getting from our guys," he said after Thursday's training session at UBC's National Soccer Development Centre. "I know the group and I know the core. As a club, we're ready much more than we were last year.

"Now, is that going to translate to a win, draw or loss? I don't know. But I'm confident that we're going to do well, and we're ready for this game."

Toronto FC hoping to build on success

Continuity and consistency are the buzzwords in 2020 for Toronto FC, which is looking to build on a second-half surge last season that carried it to the MLS Cup final for the third time in four years.

While Toronto lost the championship game 3-1 to Seattle last November, it returns virtually all of the key pieces of its roster (with the exception of respected veteran defender Drew Moor, now back with Colorado).

"The mood is good," Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio said. "Guys are hungry."

Fully healthy, Toronto is hard to beat. But Greg Vanney's side begins the season Saturday in San Jose with captain Michael Bradley a long-term absentee due to ankle surgery and questions over the durability of new designated player Pablo Piatti.

The 30-year-old Argentine winger has played just seven matches since undergoing knee surgery in February 2019 with Spain's Espanyol. His Toronto debut has been delayed by a hamstring strain.

Altidore's impact

The biggest question-mark is star striker Jozy Altidore, who missed all but 22 minutes of the playoffs with a damaged ankle. A beast when healthy, the U.S. international has played in just 35 regular-season games (30 starts) — with 18 goals — over the last two seasons.

Toronto goes as Altidore goes.

"Unfortunately last year ... Jozy didn't factor into the season as much as we would have liked him to," Vanney said. "If Jozy can be back in the equation, be fit, continue to give us what he's given through the course of pre-season, just that alone we're going to be a different team."

The good news is the big man is healthy and expected to captain Toronto in Bradley's absence.

Star striker Jozy Altidore (17) remains the biggest question-mark for Toronto FC this season. He is expected to captain Toronto in Michael Bradley's (4) absence. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Toronto relied on stylish Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo as a false No. 9 in Altidore's absence last season. The other choices at striker are veteran Patrick Mullins, 20-year-old Ayo Akinola and Nigerian rookie Ifunanyachi Achara, who earned a contract with an impressive pre-season showing that included three goals

After opening last season at 4-1-1, Toronto endured a 2-7-4 slump before going on a run from mid-July on. With its roster finally complete, TFC only lost twice in the 18 regular-season and playoff contests (10-2-6) leading up to the championship game.

Vanney is looking for a more consistent ride this season.

"We understand we're probably not going to be in top form in Game 1 but don't want any dips in our season. We want to keep building and if we happen to lose a game, bounce back, get on some runs where we win multiple games in a row.

"Just consistency in performance, consistency in outcome is one of the things we're looking for this season."

Fewer distractions

Bradley ankle surgery aside, the pre-season has been refreshingly free of drama — unlike the 2019 training camp when GM Tim Bezbatchenko quit to take over Columbus, star attackers Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez left for greener pastures and Dutch international defender Gregory van der Wiel was dismissed after a training camp bust-up.

"A lot less distractions, for sure," Osorio said.

"Guys are just working and doing their jobs and getting along," Vanney added. "I would say there's a really good energy and vibe amongst the group."

The Toronto roster combines an experienced group with a lot of youth. There are seven veterans 30 or over and a dozen players 24 or younger including 15-year-old midfielder Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty.

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