The Canadian men’s national team took centre stage this weekend, playing for the first time since the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and while the international break forced many leagues around the world to pause, Major League Soccer rolled on.

While CF Montréal didn’t feel the impact of losing players thanks to a week off, Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps were forced to adapt.

Both teams were depleted, with TFC losing key players Richie Laryea, Jonathan Osorio, Mark-Anthony Kaye, and Ayo Akinola to the CanMNT, while the Caps were without Javain Brown and Andrés Cubas who were on duty with Jamaica and Paraguay, respectively.

Unfortunately, the Reds were unable to replicate last week’s result but still managed to leave San Jose with a scoreless draw. The Whitecaps remain winless but, thanks to a stoppage-time winner from Simon Becher, walked away from Minnesota with a point, which is the least Vancouver deserved from 23 shot attempts.

With only two Canadian MLS teams in action, here are this week’s conclusions.

Defensive worries are a thing of the past for TFC

Coming into the season, one of Toronto’s FC’s biggest question marks was their defence. After back-to-back seasons allowing a franchise-worst 66 goals, how would they fix their defensive issues?

In the off-season, the club signed Norwegian international Sigurd Rosted, MLS veteran Matt Hedges, and former FC Basel standout left-back Raoul Petretta, along with USMNT goalkeeper and 2021 MLS Cup MVP Sean Johnson, to solidify the backline. In a short time, they’ve managed to build some real chemistry resulting in back-to-back clean sheets, making the season-opening late collapse to D.C. United feel like a long time ago.

With Lorenzo Insigne, Adama Diomande, and Cristián Gutiérrez missing due to injury, along with players on international duty, the pressure was on the defence Saturday night. Other than missing Laryea, head coach Bob Bradley had to make just one change to his usual back-four, slotting in 18-year-old Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty at right-back.

The San Jose Earthquakes tried to take advantage of the young right-back with most of their 25 crosses coming from left-back Paul Marie and winger Benji Kikanović. With a composed two-way performance, and the assistance of his more experienced teammates, JMR and Co. kept their opposition at bay thanks to 26 clearances by the back line.

Having an experienced goalkeeper behind them really allows defenders to play more freely and not have to worry as much about making mistakes. Knowing they have a composed and capable safety net behind them, really minimizes performance pressure. Once again, Johnson didn’t let them down, making four saves on the night, including a crucial stop on Jackson Yueill’s stoppage-time effort from outside the box.

Although it is only five games into the season, the signs are there that TFC has found the solution to the defensive problems that plagued the previous two seasons. In the first five games last season, TFC conceded nine goals. This year, the Reds have allowed just five, and three of them came in the season opener in D.C.

Simon Becher needs to start up top for the Vancouver Whitecaps

It only took five matches, but it has finally happened! A Whitecaps forward finally managed to find the back of the net.

Simon Becher – a name most fans will not be familiar with – scored a well-deserved equalizer at the death Saturday in Minnesota, to secure a point in a stadium where the Caps have yet to win a game. Becher came on in the final 20 minutes to make his first league appearance this season, and few match-winning goals are as timely as that.

Although the 16th overall pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft is shy on MLS experience, with his only other appearance coming last season as a substitute (he also found the back of the net in just eight minutes of action), Becher was productive for Vancouver Whitecaps 2 in MLS Next Pro scoring eight goals and is showing that he’s ready to be trusted by the big club. He’s scored three goals in three appearances, having also netted in the 5-0 throttling of Real España in the CONCACAF Champions League.

With off-season Designated Player signing Sergio Córdova set to miss six to eight weeks due to a hamstring strain, and none of the Whitecaps forwards managing to find the net let alone provide an assist before Saturday, the door is open for Becher to make his way into Vanni Sartini’s starting XI.

Desperate to win their first regular-season game of the year, and with visits from CF Montréal and Cascadia rivals the Portland Timbers next on the schedule, Sartini will have a short leash for his regulars. If Becher can continue his super-sub heroics, it will be tough to keep Becher out of the starting lineup.