The big story about this game is obvious. He's finally coming to Toronto. A polarising love him or hate him figure, ever since he signed with Los Angeles Galaxy, TFC supporters both hardcore and casual, have been waiting for him to play a meaningful game here, some want to be able to watch and admire his skills, while some will just want to relentlessly boo him. This Wednesday we'll all finally get the chance to "pay our respects" one way or another. I am of course talking about Chad Barrett.
I'll come right out and say it, I was a big Chad Barrett fan over the previous couple of years. His workrate and his overall game were impressive, and I love a good underdog, so the more people legitimately criticised him for his finishing, the more I wanted him to do well. When he added an improved scoring ability to his game in 2010, I couldn't have been happier for him, when he scored twice against Chicago, I was positively giddy. It was like the special kid in school had got an A. One that he actually earned. So, though I'll admit his salary was too high and his trade was probably for the best, in Winter we trust and all that, I was disappointed to see him leave, and I'll certainly applaud him on to the field, before hoping he turns back into 2009 Chad Barrett who couldn't score in a brothel.
Of course he may not even play, as L.A have yet to fully integrate him and Juan Pablo Angel into any kind of settled lineup yet, and it's that sort of early season unfamiliarity that will be one of the main reasons Toronto FC could get something out of what on paper looks like a bit of a mismatch. More reasons for hope after the jump.
Adding to the uncertainty about who'll play for LA is that Landon Donovan missed their last game with a minor injury. When fit he's obviously one of LA's main threats to score, and given Toronto's vulnerability at Right Back, he could have a big impact. Bruce Arena has the team playing very solid defensively, but they haven't really got things going up front, especially from open play. Edson Buddle's absence is being felt as they've scored exactly one goal in each of their first 5 matches, so hopefully Donovan will be out again so they don't get it going in Toronto. They have been getting a lot of goals from set pieces though, with David Beckham doing his thing and assisting on 3 goals already, so TFC need to make sure they aren't giving up the amount of corners they did against Vancouver and Portland.
How will TFC line up? The health of the team just 4 days and a cross continent flight after the game against San Jose could have a big effect there, with Alen Stevanovic taken out of the game on Saturday and also relieved from training duties on Tuesday. After his great performance against San Jose, it would be a shame if Stevanovic can't go again, but if he is out, Joao Plata seems the obvious replacement in the same role, with Javier Martina once again wide on the right. Alan Gordon should get the start up front against his old club, and though he's been disappointing so far, I'd stick with the Maicon Santos as attacking midfielder experiment. Beckham has been playing in Central Midfield recently for L.A, so hopefully Santos will be able to take advantage of his lack of speed and defensive ability to get the space needed to be more effective.
The other injury question mark is obviously Julian De Guzman, he's played 45 minutes twice so far, is he ready to do a bit more than that? If so I'd like to see him start, he and Tony Tchani worked very well together against San Jose and can hopefully repeat that performance to keep L.A's talented midfield in check. De Guzman's positional sense and more cerebral play combines well with Tchani's more noticeable athleticism and tackling ability, and those two could develop into one of the best midfield partnerships in the league.
In defence, Adrian Cann and Danleigh Borman should start again, as both did very well against San Jose, but it's the right side of defence that is troubling. Donovan is obviously a very good player, and Chad Barrett has shown he can be very effective on the left side of attack as well, so whoever TFC puts out on the right side will have trouble. Nana Attakora has been substituted in two games straight with Aron Winter saying it was a tactical decision, so I think we could see a first appearance in the starting line up for Dicoy Williams. Ty Harden will probably stay at Right Back, though Jacob Peterson put in a decent performance there against San Jose as well, so if De Guzman is good to go in midfield, Peterson could see another start at Right Back instead, he'd certainly provide more assistance to Javier Martina going forward.
So, lots of different options, depending on many factors, your guess is as good as mine really, but here's how I think TFC will line up, the same basic formation with just a couple of changes.
Javier Martina's battle against Todd Dunivant could be key to TFC doing well. He was very anonymous in the first half against San Jose, and part of that is the lack of an attacking Right Back to provide the support that Stevanovic has enjoyed on the left. Opposition Coaches will have noticed the imbalance and the fact that so much of Toronto FC's attack has come from the left side, and will try and concentrate on shutting down the attack on the left. Though Martina will be more or less on his own on the Right Wing, TFC will be counting on him to be productive and take advantage of the extra space to create chances, or to at least keep L.A honest so they can't focus too much on Stevanovic and Borman.
Prediction time, I'll go with a third consecutive 1-1 tie, Maicon Santos giving Toronto a first half lead before some comedy defending allows Omar Gonzalez to score from a corner. Feel free to add your own predictions or other thoughts, comments or random David Beckham abuse in the comments section.