Ahead of Saturday's must win, but probably can't win game against Real Salt Lake, I got int touch with Denz of RSL Soapbox, SBNations's RSL blog, where you can go for game previews from their point of view, they're confident. After the jump, Denz answers my questions about javier Morales and Will Johnson, as well as what sort of lineup we`ll be seeing after RSL had to play in midweek. I also answer his questions about just what`s gone wrong so far, how much time Aron Winter might have left, how Ryan Johnson's doing and which RSL player I'd love to see on TFC. So, Salt lake, how you doin'?
Waking the Red: After looking good, RSL stumbled when they came up against some good teams recently. Obviously TFC at home is just what any team needs to get some confidence back, but does RSL have what it takes to compete with the best in MLS, and CCL? How do you see the season going?
RSL Soapbox: I guess for me the answer is stumbled or were tripped, against Sporting KC we failed to adjust our style to be more productive against them, and they took advantage of poor marking on a set piece, so yeah I can say we stumbled in that one. Against San Jose, an early red card left us down a man but we for large stretches of the time where we were 10v11 the better team, we gave up a late stoppage time goal in the 1st half but battled back to even it up despite being a man down. Then we got tripped on a bad call that left us 9v11, but even then we did a decent job withstanding the storm and it wasn’t until the middle of 6 minutes of stoppage time (which seemed a bit over the top) that San Jose were able to get a game winner. At FC Dallas, both teams battled, the difference Dallas was gifted a goal on a mystery PK call, but RSL was able to answer back.
I do think RSL has what it takes to compete against any team in MLS, and I can see us making a deep run in Champions League again this year, we do have to consider that RSL have yet to start a match with their "top" lineup. So I consider 5-3-1 to be a decent start to the season considering that 5 of those matches have been on the road. I think we will contend for the top spot in the Western Conference and when it comes to the playoffs, well you just never know.
WTR: How has the return of Javier Morales gone so far this season? Also, with an eye on this year's international games, how's Will Johnson looking?
RSLS: To be honest it has been a mixed bag with Javier, he picked up a separate injury in the preseason which kept him out of the lineup at the start of the year, and then after returning to the starting XI, he picked up another new injury that kept him out a couple weeks. He is back healthy now, but still looking to pick up full match fitness as well as the sharpness on and off the ball that makes him such a dangerous player. I think we are a better team with his creative abilities on the pitch, so I expect that we are just starting to see what he can offer this year.
Will Johnson is a beast, and after some injury issues to start the season he has been getting better and better each week. Will is one of the work horses for RSL, he will chase down the play on both defense and offense and is comfortable with possession on both sides of the ball as well. He provides the quality that allows other players to risk more as they know that he is there to provide support. I think that RSL will miss him during his call up matches, but Jason and our staff know how important national team call ups are and they seem to find a way to make it work for both player, club and country.
WTR: Will the midweek game against Dallas lead to any lineup rotation for RSL, or will TFC be seeing pretty much the first team? What does that look like these days anyway?
RSLS: Yes, I think you will come close to seeing the top guys, I expect that both Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola will be back in the starting lineup. It will be interesting to see if RSL plays all the guys who have gone back to back 90 minutes in the last two matches, I expect a good number of them will be on the pitch when the match starts. When I look at my crystal ball, I see this starting XI on Saturday:
Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran, Luis Gil, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola, and Paulo Jr.
We could see one of our outside backs get a break, but I think that each of the guys will fight to be on the pitch. I love that our guys want to play every minute of every match that they can, it is part of that desire for competition that drives every match and practice session for the team.
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RSLS: Despite the record 0-6-0, TFC have looked good for stretches of almost all their matches. There are clearly some issues but what do you see as the major factor in the lack of wins, is it injuries, tactics, player selection, player quality, or something else?
WTR: All of the above really. Having arguably our best goalkeeper Stefan Frei, our best Centre Back, Adrian Cann, best Midfielder Torsten Frings and best forward Danny Koevermans out at different times hasn't really helped, but every team has to deal with that sort of thing and it really exposed the lack of quality depth in TFC's squad. A lot of new players were brought in during the second half of last season, but there was still plenty of work to do in the off season, particularly in defence. We signed an Ecuadorian international, Geovanny Caicedo, and a Chilean international Miguel Aceval. Both Centre Backs, where we really needed help, surely one of them could be the answer. That wasn't the case as Caicedo didn't even make it through preseason before being mutually consented back home and though still with the club Aceval has looked slow and overweight and not really the answer at all. Aside from that our off season signings were either securing the permanent transfer of players from last year (Joao Plata and Richard Eckersley, both of whom have underperformed so far) or minor depth signings, so we really failed to improve the squad over the winter.
As for the tactics, that definitely hasn't helped as formations have been switched from week to week, from a 4-3-3 to a 5-2-3 or a 3-4-3, there's been no stability or consistency. Players have also been played out of position, which inevitably leads to errors, and it's mistakes that have really been killing TFC this year. We have indeed looked good in stretches this year, but I think a big part of that is that teams know they don't really have to pressure TFC too much, they can sit back and allow us to attack, knowing at some point they'll get a great chance on the counter attack, or we'll somehow gift them a goal. There's also issues with wide players, whether full backs or wingers helping out the midfield, the main issue being that they don't do it nearly enough and thus the midfield almost always looks undermanned and overwhelmed.
All in all, it adds up to a lot of losing. I think 0-6 isn't quite a fair representation of the season, but it's not far off. Fortunately Adrian Cann is back now which should solidify the defence enough to allow Torsten Frings to play in midfield, and hopefully that will make the difference.
RSLS: I know a lot of people don’t really care for TFC’s ownership group MLSE, but with this week’s calling out of the team by MLSE do you expect to see Aron Winter gone if the team doesn’t win one of their next 2-3 matches?
WTR: There's growing unrest over Winter's future, and I think probably the main thing in his favour is the fact that we've already been through so many coaching changes already that stability is seen as a very desirable thing. As for MLSE, well they're all about making moves for the sake of PR and appeasing fans, so if things get particularly ugly, I think they'll make a move. More than likely it would be shuffling him upstairs to some vague technical director kind of post, with Paul Mariner being suggested as taking over the first team coaching duties, or even bringing in his old Revs buddy Steve Nicol.
Do I expect it to happen? Well, not this week, but after Saturday's game, we've got 2 Canadian Championship games against Montreal, with a game against DC United in the middle. We have a bye week after the second leg against Montreal, so don't play from the 9th to the 19th. That 10 day gap would be a hell of a long media and message board shitstorm of anger for MLSE to wait out, as well as a very inviting chance for a new coach to spend some time with the players in training before having to play a game. If by the end of these 4 games, we're still winless in MLS, and knocked out of the cup, and you know Montreal and Dwayne de Rosario would love to make things worse for TFC, well I don't see how he can survive really.
RSLS: Real Salt Lake fans know Ryan Johnson from his stint with RSL, how has he fit in at TFC since joining the team last year? Is he a player that you see continuing to make a difference for the club?
WTR: He's done very well for us. He played pretty much every position in the forward line last year, and did well almost everyrwhere, scoring plenty of goals, but without ever really cementing a definitive position in the team. In pre season and in the first few games of the season, he was on fire, looking speedy, dynamic, towering over defenders to win headers and scoring goals for fun. It's all gone a bit downhill since then, mainly I think due to taking a lot of attention and fouls from tough/dirty centre backs and defensive midfielders, which has left him looking tired and sore, and not really at his best. He's struggling with luck recently as well, with balls cleared off the line and hitting the woodwork, he looks like he's due a goal. With Danny Koevermans injured, he'll be at centre forward on Saturday, though I think his long term future with the club is probably at left wing.
RSLS: Bonus Question – If there is one player from RSL that you could add to the TFC roster, who is it and why?
WTR: Can we swap the whole team please? No? Alright then, if it's just one guy, I'll have to pass on the team Canada appeal of Will Johnson and go with Jamison Olave. He's the type of commanding centre back that we've never had in all our 6 seasons, and still so desperately need.
Thanks Denz, and good luck with the rest of the season.