The great Duncan Fletcher of Waking The Red traded 3 questions with me ahead of tomorrow's game. Enjoy.
1) Eric Avila was a guy that no one really wanted to leave but I think we’re all happy for him getting extended playing time with Toronto. How has he gotten on with TFC this year?
He was in and out of the team at the start of the season, not eligible for champions league play, and not really working out in the attacking midfield spot in Aron Winter's 4-3-3. He actually broke into the team in the Left Wing spot, having a couple of decent games, including scoring a great goal against RSL in what was his best game under Aron Winter.
Since Paul Mariner took over, he's started every game, usually playing a more defensive role than we've seen in the past, wide on the right, where ha also has the chance to pop up on the right wing, or more centrally behind the forwards. He's looked comfortable out there so far with a little more time on the ball than he was used to in Winter's midfield and though he could definitely be improved upon, he isn't a priority for TFC to upgrade in the transfer window.
2) Since ditching Aron Winter, the results have obviously gotten much better for Toronto, what’s been the biggest key to turning things around?
There's a few things really. The usual new coach bounce, a sense of relief that I'd say was as much to do with getting that 0-9 monkey off their back as it was moving on from Aron Winter.
The formational change to a more basic 4-4-2, or 4-3-1-2 to break it down a bit more, has definitely helped as well at both ends of the pitch, after a couple of games to get used to things, and the removal of teen Doneil Henry from the lineup, the defence has looked a lot more organised recently. The extra midfielder has helped clog up the middle and force teams out wide, and both Danny Koevermans and Ryan Johnson look more effective as a pairing up front than either of them had as a single Centre Forward. Despite losing the 2 wingers that the 4-3-3 provided, we've also become a lot more effective from out wide now all the play isn't automatically funneled out there. There's fewer crosses going in, but they've been a lot more dangerous and led to plenty of goals.
I'd say the biggest factor though has been the health of Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings. Both of them suffered injuries early in the season and never really got going under Aron Winter, which really really hurt the team. Now both seem to be firing on all cylinders, especially Danny Koevermans who has 7 of the teams last 11 goals, which brings us handily to question 3.
3) Danny Koevermans was the MLS player of the week and could be the player of the month, why has he been so good lately and what’s the key to stopping him?
Well, the first thing is that he's healthy and fit after being in and out of the lineup to start the season, and as we saw last season a healthy Danny is a prolific Danny. The second part of the equation, and the best answer to how to stop him is about the quality of service he's been getting.
Under Aron Winter, the attack was a bit stale, we go wide, the wingers usually cut in, and the overlapping full back tries to get a cross in. It was predictable, not quite quick enough really, and thus easy to defend, especially when Koevermans or Ryan Johnson were the only target to aim for in the middle with the defence well set. Now we're attacking more down the middle, and more on the counter attack, and that's leading to quicker breaks against more unorganised defences. The quality of crosses that has come from this has been much improved, and Koevermans is lethal at finishing off that kind of move. Almost all his goals are just one touch from in close.
Don't give TFC space down the wings and you'll go a long way to cutting off the supply to koevermans and thus stopping him. Also make sure any centre back that's marking him doesn't take his eyes off him for a second at set pieces, his ability to lose a marker in the box to get a free header or get to a ball first is frighteningly good.
Bonus: Tell us about a TFC player that may not be a household MLS name but could have a big impact on Wednesday.
For this I'll go with the player who's been delivering so many quality balls for Koevermans recently, and that's left back Ashtone Morgan. He did a good job shutting Dane Richards down on Saturday, is always ready to join the attack, and has collected a lot of recent assists providing high quality balls in from the left for koevermans and Johnson.
For my answers to his three questions, check out Waking The Red