3 Questions on Toronto FC

Layne Murdoch

Duncan Fletcher (@DuncanDFletcher) joins us this week from Waking the Red to talk about the imminent red versus red matchup. Let's jump right in...

1. In an unexpected announcement, Ryan Nelson was named Toronto's next head coach. One month in to the 2013 campaign, how is he doing?

It's going well so far. TFC were obviously starting further back from everyone else and left it very late in pre season to be bringing in re-inforcements which doesn't help make a coach's job easy. Despite that and a tough schedule to start off, TFC have looked alright. There's a much more defensive focus, 2 DM's in midfield, Robert Earnshaw often looking quite lonely up front, full backs not getting forward as much as they have in years past. That's what we needed though and results have backed up that decision. Nelsen talks a lot about building a foundation and baby steps, he seems to have a realistic view on what TFC needs right now and how we're playing. Focusing on defence is a simple way to look relatively competent, but it'll be interesting to see if he can keep that and still get a bit more attacking intent out of the team. For now though, he's impressed and earned plenty of respect for getting the basics right.

2. Robert Earnshaw has been quite the revelation for TFC. His 2013 season stats are very similar to league-leading Mike Magee. Where did this guy come from? Do you see him becoming the next leader of the club?

Well, he's had a decent career in England over the years, mainly at championship level, as well as playing for Wales so it's not like he's come out of nowhere. I'd say his stats are a bit misleading, there's a couple of penalties in there, but he's shown fantastic opportunism and finishing ability with the other 2 goals, both of which came from bad backpasses he pounced on. He hasn't been getting much service so far, but he's shown if he's given chances, he'll take a good percentage of them. How he'll fit in with Danny Koevermans when the Dutchman is fit later in the season will be interesting and will demand a formation change. Given Koevermans' age, you've got to think that if it comes down to one or the other for 2014 onwards they'll stick with Earnshaw.

3. Changing goalkeepers is never easy. How is Joe Bendik reorganizing the defense to keep opposition goal scorers at bay?

Bendik has done well since taking over from Stefan Frei after Frei broke his nose, and has very much earned the starting position. Though he's benefitted from playing behind a much better defence than Frei or Milos Kocic got to work behind these last 2 years, it's difficult to say just how much of that is down to his organising, I'd give more credit to Nelsen and Danny Califf at the heart of things, but he's doing his part for sure. One area he can improve is his distribution. He almost always kicks long, and very rarely does it accurately.

4. Who is a player that Dallas fans might not know about that could greatly impact the match this weekend?

John Bostock, though I'd really emphasize the 'could'. He was a highly touted prospect for Tottenham Hotspur who's just never got his game going and so finds himself in MLS. He's clearly got skill, but he's also very clearly keeping that skill in just his left foot. Playing on the right wing, he often shuns the chance to try beat his man down the wing, preferring instead to cut back inside. He's only played 3 games and so far seems like a typical winger, flashy and exciting when he's on, frustratingly inefficient when he's not. He probably won't impact the game, but if he does, he'll look good when he's doing it.

5. Predicted lineup and final score?

Joe Bendik; Richard Eckersley, Danny Califf, Darren O'Dea, Ashtone Morgan; Terry Dunfield, Jeremy Hall; John Bostock, Luis Silva, Reggie Lambe; Robert Earnshaw. All in a 4-2-3-1. As for the score, I'll go with 1-1.

Whew. That was more than three. Consider numbers 4 and 5 your spring Tax Refund. Take a quick breather, grab a snack, and join back up with us to review my answers to Waking the Red's questions below, followed by the must-see comments section.

My answers to Waking the Red's questions.


1) 4 wins out of 5. Life post Brek Shea seems to be going alright. What's been the key to that success? Can Dallas keep it going and be a serious threat this season?

The key has been smart acquisitions in his absence. Dallas already had depth out wide in Jackson and Fabian Castillo. However, our glaring need has been veteran forward leadership and depth in the midfield. The front office worked hard to address those needs and brought in guys who have quickly assimilated to the locker room. Team chemistry is at an all time high. That can overcome a ton a hurdles right there.

2) Eric Hassli has been a very expensive substitute so far. Is he likely to force his way into the top 2 strikers or he will remain a depth player. Can Dallas find a way to get him, Cooper and Perez into the team at the same time?

I don't think Dallas has ever planned to deploy Kenny Cooper, Blas Perez, and Eric Hassli all at the same time. The team is geared to operate in either a one or two striker system. Cooper and Hassli were brought in at the same time, and they offer depth and interchangeable options. Perez will miss significant time trying to qualify for the 2014 World Cup with the Panama National Team. Hassli picked up an injury when he was with Toronto which he is still recovering from. Last time I saw an estimate from the team, they were expecting him to reach 100% fitness in mid-April. We should see more of him as the season progresses.

3) There's plenty of obvious big names, but who's a less well known player having a big impact so far this year? Are any of the homegrown players Dallas have signed getting close to the first team?

Someone you may not have heard of is Michel. He is a Brazilian signed during this past offseason. He is naturally a leftback; however FCD has been using him in defensive midfield with great results. He serves a mean freekick. Michel is definitely someone new to watch out for.

The Dallas homegrown players are progressing well. None of them get regular minutes for the first team; however they make up the majority of the bench every game day. Expect to see them used as subs late in the game. I expect that we will see them take the pitch later in the season when player rotation becomes essential to the starting XI and various players miss time for national team call-ups.

4) The Daniel Hernandez retirement, then resignation from the coaching staff very shortly after joining seemed odd. Have further details come out as to how and why that happened?

It was reported that Daniel Hernandez was fired from FC Dallas shortly after becoming an assistant coach. A story recently broke that there are some legal matters pending between the two parties, but the short story of it is that it seems FCD fired him for unsanctioned competition for holding charity soccer camps for children. The thing of it is that Daniel has been holding these camps for years, and FCD has promoted them in the past. Everything doesn't add up. Honestly though, as a fanbase, I think that overall we have not paid too much attention to this. It was unfortunate to lose Daniel from this team, whatever the circumstances. I know that it meant the world to him to play for and captain his hometown team. I personally have tried to refrain from causing too much commotion about it. Let the guy move on with his life.

5) Lineup, formation and score predictions.

FCD will go with either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2, depending on how the strikers are training. I think we will see the 4-4-2 this week against Toronto.

GK- Raul Fernandez

D- Jair Benitez, Matt Hedges, George John, Zach Loyd

DM- Andrew Jacobson

M- Michel, Jackson

AM- David Ferreira

F- Kenny Cooper, Blas Perez

I predict scoreline 2-1 to Dallas.

What is your prediction for Dallas this weekend?

If Hassli scores, will Ryan Nelsen bust out of his khaki's and invade the pitch in a defensive fury?

We'll just have to wait and see. Join the discussion in the comment section below.

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