Last time these two teams met we all know what the end result was. Toronto FC went down to Pizza Hut Park and beat FC Dallas 3-0 thanks to an incredible performance from Joao Plata. Now the two clubs meet again down in Orlando but this time around the stakes are much lower (Live stream available here). There is a spot in Saturday's final on the line for the winner of this game but that does not even begin to compare with a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League quarter finals. So before we get down to any sort of preview let's all pause and share a moment of silence as we watch the highlights from the Greatest Game Ever! (at least from a Toronto FC perspective)
On Thursday night (6 pm EST) TFC and FC Dallas will play for a spot in the finals at the Walt Disney Pro Soccer Classic (or the Mickey Mouse Cup to give it its formal name). Both teams come in to the match with a win and a draw but Dallas is sitting on top of the group by virtue of goal difference following their 4-0 win over Orlando City SC. The loser of the game (if there is one) will still be in with a good chance of playing in the consolation final, but for TFC the focus should be on getting a point to ensure they get to play one more match. That would take them to five preseason games. That number is very comparable to what many of the world's top clubs would play in their preseasons so it will hopefully take the lack of preparation excuse out of the picture when March 7th comes around.So what can we expect from Toronto FC in this game? The short answer would be more of the same. Winter will likely go with another strong starting eleven and hopefully give them all solid minutes as building fitness continues to be the most important task for the team. Winter should have all his options available to him, other than Julian De Guzman who will not be back from Cyprus, so the lineup he plays in this match should be a good indication of what we can expect against the LA Galaxy.
FC Dallas will likely also go with a strong starting eleven as they will be looking to start the MLS season strong in hopes of remaining competitive in a very strong west. It is likely that they will not start David Ferreira as he has just returned from a long layoff due to injury and they will likely want to use him sparingly. The absence of Brek Shea, who is off with the US National Team, will also be a welcome relief for TFC. Those absences, whether definite or potential, will hurt Dallas' attack but with a very on form Fabian Castillo and Blaz Perez likely to play solid minutes Toronto's defense will have more than enough to worry about.
It is that defence that will remain the focus of many Red's fans in this game. The first two games have shown a variety of different looks from the team in defence but a lot of questions remain. It seems that Miguel Aceval is well on his way to locking down one of the spots in the center of the back line but who plays beside him is still very much a question mark. Geovanny Caicedo was less than impressive in the first game, Ty Harden was quietly solid in the second game, and Aaron Maund has been decent in relief both times. None of those three has staked a solid claim to the spot so who Winter decides to start against Dallas might show where he is leaning. Personally, I expect him to go with Caicedo in hopes that he puts in a better performance this time around.
The other question will be what formation the team goes with in this game. With all the attacking talent that Dallas has at their disposal it would not be a surprise if Toronto goes with their more defensive, and much more stable, 5-2-3/3-4-3 with Torsten Frings or Terry Dunfield hanging out in the backline. That tactical move worked well in the last game as it freed up Ashtone Morgan and Richard Eckersley to get forward down the wings without leaving the center backs totally exposed. Having them push forward then allows Plata to cut inside more which he loves to do so much and seems to make Toronto a whole lot more potent in the attack.
In the end this will be another game about building fitness and getting a bit sharper. If they do that the result will be secondary, even if that extra game would be quite nice. With teams having to be compliant to MLS roster rules on March 1st Toronto could make some moves in advance of the match but with no need to cut anyone we could still see the supplemental draft picks, trialists, and academy players feature in this game.