Toronto FC had quite the off season! The Canadian Reds look a far cry different than the last time they visited North Texas. With a full menu of world class internationals to choose from, the starting lineup packs more fire power than a maple syrup-packed moose grenade.
This week, Duncan joins us from Waking the Red for a question exchange about our visitors, Toronto FC.
Big D Soccer: If Bradley and/or Defoe are unavailable for a significant stretch, how much trouble is Toronto in? What does the depth look like beneath the DPs?
WTR: So far, Toronto have had two very injury hit games. The first saw them take on Columbus without Defoe, and also midfielder Jonathan Osorio and first choice central defence partnership Steven Caldwell and Doneil Henry and they surprised everyone by coming away with a deserved 2-0 win that suggested the depth wouldn't be as much of a problem as everyone thought it might be. Last week, though we got Caldwell back, Michael Bradley and Alvaro Rey were added to the list and the team struggled to a 1-0 defeat at home to Colorado. Whether that means Bradley is THE crucial player or was just a case of the balance being tipped to too many injuries to cover for is up for debate, but there's no question they miss both of those big players.
The defence looks fairly solid, even when the depth was called upon, probably down to tactics as much as anything as TFC generally play quite conservative, and favour maintaining shape and position over keeping possession. In midfield though, there's a definite drop off as was seen last week. Kyle Bekker had an ok game, good defensively and tidy with possession, but Jeremy Hall? Well he's Jeremy Hall and the two of them together just don't have the mental agility and quickness that Bradley has to make things happen. The Rapids very comfortably defended and TFC were forced into playing the ball out to the wings and throwing crosses in, all very 2013. Up front, well none of the strikers other than Defoe have scored yet so that should tell you something. Dwayne de Rosario has looked like a shell of his former self so far, he'll miss this game with an injury so my hope is he's been struggling with that, rather than merely getting old. The other DP striker, Brazilian Gilberto has show some promise and seems to enjoy coming back to find the ball and link with the midfield, but hasn't looked like much of a goal threat so far and doesn't really seem suited to being the main man up front. Overall, the depth isn't as bad as some fans would have thought, but it's very much a concern.
Big D Soccer: Ryan Nelsen's appointment came as a bit of a shock since he was still actively playing in the Premier League at the time. How has he transitioned to the Head Coach role? Is he the right long term solution for TFC?
WTR: It was a bit of a shock as not only was he coming directly out of his plying career, but he didn't even have any coaching badges, and has a very inexperienced coaching staff to work with. Last year, there wasn't anything spectacular but he showed that he could organise a defence, taking a woeful squad to the level of competitively poor. This year there's definitely more expected given the talent, but the jury's still out on that one. So far, the formation is always a 4-4-2 with two wingers and two defensive midfielders, and it's generally a very counter attacking style they play, when TFC have possession they get it forward very quickly. It's generally worked quite well, having Bradley's vision and passing ability and Defoe's speed and intelligent runs definitely helps with that. That's obviously not going to work all the time, for example giving up a lot of possession to RSL was suicide and Colorado just sat back, denied the counter and thus TFC looked pretty toothless, though Bradley and or Defoe would have made a difference. So a plan B is needed, and so far Nelsen hasn't really shown us one, so whether he's the one that can take these quality players and do really good things with them and be that long term solution is still very much up for debate.
Big D Soccer: This is a brave new world for the Reds; what is your season long prediction for the team? Do you think Toronto can breach the playoffs and make a respectable run at MLS Cup?
WTR: There'll be some ups and downs, but they'll be good enough to keep Nelsen in a job. The pre World Cup camp time will suck, but as long as there are no injuries, everything should come together well in the second half of the season. I'd guess at 3rd or 4th in the East as the squad isn't really good enough for a full season, but they should make the playoffs, and at that point anything can happen and there's certainly the talent to win any one off game if they get hot at the right time. I'll guess at a respectable season, maybe getting as far as the conference final, while mainly hoping for a good summer transfer window and off season to set us up for a serious run at silverware next year.
BDS: Injury/suspensions and lineup prediction.
WTR: Injuries: Out: Defoe, De Rosario, Henry, Rey, Hall, Dike. Questionable: Bradley.
I'll guess at the following (though really Michael Bradley's the only guess, if he's not fit replace him with Kyle Bekker), right to left in a 4-4-2. Julio Cesar; Mark Bloom, Steven Caldwell, Bradley Orr, Justin Morrow; Issey Nakajima-Farran, Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, Jackson; Gilberto, Andrew Wiedeman.