Game Thread: Toronto FC v Santos Laguna

Toronto FC v Santos Laguna
BMO Field, 8pm E.S.T
Sportsnet, Stream at Sportsnet.ca

So here we go, the latest biggest game ever, and unless it goes horribly wrong tonight, one that is set to be eclipsed by another biggest game ever in just a week. It doesn't really feel that way though, there's a noticeable lack of excitement when compared to the previous biggest game ever from a couple of weeks back, not to mention march 7th's biggest game ever. Whether it's due to the lack of build up time, the lack of exotic famous opponents, or TFC's latest two performances sucking all the enthusiasm out of everyone, it all feels curiously low key, which will be matched by a less than sellout crowd sadly, despite a large away fan contingent.

Is this all one round too far? The game at the dome was a great way to keep interest over the off season, and with the help of a couple of goals, a genuinely good one off event. A success even without the win. Getting the win in L.A felt fantastic at the time, a sweet moment of redemption, but then after calming down and taking a look at what that win got us, it's easy to feel a little Caveat Emptor about it all really.

Whatever happened against L.A and whatever happens in the CCL, short of winning the whole thing, will just be a nice bonus, what really counts this year is MLS, competing in the Eastern Conference and at the least grabbing a playoff spot. Starting with the San Jose game we had a good run of winnable games that should have given us a good points cushion and momentum to take into the rest of the season.

Throwing an extra couple of games in there is very clearly not going to help when it comes to fatigue and preparation for those games. Also, whether they'd admit it or not, and they never would, these two big games had to be at least a minor distraction that may have played a part in the two shitshows against Seattle and San Jose. Also, common wisdom seems to suggest we're likely to get hammered, especially in the away leg. We've let in 6 goals in 2 games, Milos Kocic was taking on a very rattled appearance in the San Jose game, do we really need their collective confidence dented further? The best thing may have been if Nick Soolsma hadn't scored, we'd got an honourable defeat on away goals and then a distraction free month or so with no midweek games to get in the way of doing well in the league.

But, here we are, and here it is. A CCL semi-final, the furthest ever a Candian club has got, and the only remaining MLS club trying to stop the Mexican clubs from once again dominating. Do we have a snowball in hell's chance? For tonight at least, absolutely.

For whatever reason, TFC have become a good cup team. While Winter's preferred 4-3-3 formation hasn't really produced any kind of consistent good performances yet, Winter has shown he's ready to compromise and be pragmatically defensive for the big games. Against Pumas, against Dallas, and twice against L.A, defensive formations have led to getting the results we need. And plenty of goals as well. There's a few variations of the saying "the best defence is a good offence", but for TFC, and the squad as it is currently, I'd say change that around, the best offence is a good defence.

The second half of the last two games have shown what happens when TFC committ to attack, with just 4 at the back, the high line and not enough defensive minded players on the pitch. Counter attack opportunities become frequent, and the opposition knows that they aren't really going to have to try too hard to create their own offence, so they can just sit back and concentrate on defence, which makes it harder for our forwards to create anything. In all the games they've played so far, TFC have found it a lot easier to control possession, remain calm and defensively solid and create chances when playing with a defensively responsible lineup. The forwards are good enough to create chances on their own, the defenders aren't good enough to defend on their own, that's going to need a massive team effort.

I'm hoping for a defensive lineup, and a strong team wide commitment to defence. Keep it tight, hope Danny Koevermans or Ryan Johnson can take advantage of one of the few chances they'll get on what will be a tough night for them, and we can sneak a result of some kind that leaves the tie still in the balance before heading down to Torreon for the second leg.

For more detailed pre-game reading, you can check out Dave's preview here, James' analysis of Santos here, and Eben Lehman of FMF State of mind answering my questions here. If you're not going to the game, Sportsnet is showing the game as well as streaming it live on their website.

I'll be here at about 7ish with lineups when they're put on twitter, as well as other pre game, half time and post game thoughts.

Come on you Reds!

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