Toronto FC will be buzzing in what is expected to be a sold-out home opener with 30,000 fans in a newly-renovated stadium.
Toronto kicked off the year with an eight-game road trip, taking them from coast to coast. "I feel like over the course of the eight games, in every game we were there. We were there to take something in every game and in several of them we did take something," said Coach Greg Vanney. With an upgraded defense this year featuring offseason acquisitions Drew Moor, Steven Beitashour, and Clint Irwin, the backline hasn't given up more than 2 goals in a game. In fact, Toronto has conceded a miserly seven goals in eight games, as opposed to FC Dallas who have surrendered seven goals in just their last 2 games. Recently, Toronto defeated D.C. United 1-0, beat rivals Montreal Impact 2-0, and lost to the Portland Timbers 1-2 where they were unlucky not to get a point in a close scrap.
Sebastian Giovinco has once again shown himself to be the best player in the league. The Atomic Ant has six goals and three assists in eight games. He takes over 5 shots a game on average, and doesn't mind trying from distance. Nearly half of his shots are unassisted, as he is very capable of creating chances on his own with fantastic individual effort. FC Dallas will need to be wary of his quick movements.
Jozy Altidore missed the beginning of the season with a hamstring injury. He's started the last four games playing underneath Giovinco in a second striker role and has 2 assists but no goals. Vanney said, "I think strikers always put pressure on themselves to finish things so I'm sure he's thinking about when is that one going to drop for him or when he's going to get it." A raucous home opener could be the spark he needs.
Toronto FC plays very narrowly, preferring to attack right down the middle with both short and long passes. They line up in a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. Michael Bradley quarterbacks from the base of the diamond. With Jonathan Osorio out, rookie Tsubasa Endoh, who was the MVP of the 2016 MLS Player Combine, will be at the tip. Endoh showed his inexperience in Portland, as he missed a sitter and drew Giovinco's ire when he failed to find him in space. Will Johnson played on the left with Marco Delgado on the right, although both were tucked in around the center circle. Beitashour gets far up the field on the right touchline while Justin Morrow tends to stay at home on the left flank. Toronto will dominate possession at home against an FC Dallas side that prefers to not have the ball.
So Far Away
FC Dallas has been abysmal in the current road stretch, losing at the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-0 and then getting demolished 4-0 at the New York Red Bulls. "Very unbalanced performances so far this year," said Coach Oscar Pareja. "I'm obviously not just responsible but worried about it."
Pareja identified several team deficiencies in the Red Bulls game: "We could not get the ball back. When we got the ball back, eventually we were not fine with it, we lost it again. We couldn't explode. We couldn't hurt them at any point." Victor Ulloa echoed his points, saying, "We had a lot of pressure in the first half. We knew we had to try to keep possession of the ball a little bit longer. We couldn't complete five passes so that was something we were trying to focus on. Unfortunately, we couldn't do it and it has to be better."
Mauro Diaz started and played 76 minutes at New York. He didn't look himself, as he had little impact on the game. His vertical passing was largely intercepted and his distribution was lackluster. Hopefully Mauro will benefit from a full week of training and be back to his magical self.
Fabian Castillo has been quiet since his cheeky chip in Portland. With Steven Beitashour inclined to push up field, will Fabi be able to exploit space in behind? Unfortunately, Castillo's touch has failed him lately and the wet conditions will not help his cause. Maximiliano Urruti has fallen off the goal scoring pace lately, but the return of Mauro Diaz will hopefully put him back into the boxscore.
Zach Loyd missed practice on Wednesday with a stomach bug. He was still not 100% on Thursday but will travel with the team and hopes to start. Two out of Loyd, Maynor Figueroa, and Walker Zimmerman will start at CB with Matt Hedges out. With the quickness of Sebastian Giovinco being Toronto's biggest threat, FC Dallas fans will be praying that Loyd can be at 100% since neither Figueroa nor Zimmerman are known for their speed. Jesse Gonzalez returned to the starting lineup last week, and Pareja will probably not remove him from the lineup after only one game.
Having played on Friday, Dallas will have two extra days to rest but has to travel. The enthusiasm of the Toronto crowd should boost the energy of the Canadian side to make up for any rest deficiency. Rain is in the forecast, like last year's meeting between the teams where the game ended early in the morning. This time it should only be rain and not lightning. Will a slick field affect the short passing of Toronto? Both teams are capable of capitalizing on defensive miscues with rapid counter attacks, so it should be entertaining, especially with two of the league's best #10s in Sebastian Giovinco and Mauro Diaz. FC Dallas will be in an all-white kit with Toronto in all-red.
How to watch:
Kickoff: Saturday, May 7, 6:30pm central
Venue: BMO Field, Toronto, Ontario
TV: TXA-21, MLS Live
Weather Forecast: 56 degrees. 74% chance of rain. Wind 9 mph.
Projected Starting Lineups: