Well, after a nice easy start to the season, with 4 home games, and one of the 2 away games being at expansion Montreal, things get a bit tougher schedule wise now, starting with what is probably still the toughest fixture in the whole league, away at Real Salt Lake. Good job we cashed in on that cushy start and have plenty of points in the bank right? Eh? Oh!
While that opening paragraph was as unfair and churlish as it was obvious and clearly telegraphed, it's sadly appropriate. In the general scheme of things, for any team, a defeat at Rio Tinto stadium would never be seen as any kind of sign of crisis. It's just one of those things, a loss to a good team with a big home field advantage. It happens, and will happen to most teams this year, no-one would be banking on points from this fixture, so you shrug and get on with it. For Toronto FC though, thanks to the verging on historic 0-6 start through that relatively easy opening schedule, this game all of a sudden is now an important one, and getting some kind of result, any positive result is a very big priority.
Lose and it's 0-7 and TFC increases it's already outsized chunk of the 'MLS' worst records' section by claiming a share of 'worst start to the season'. Lose, and Aron Winter's head gets shuffled closer to the chopping block. I think at the very least, he's got a couple of weeks, until the Voyageurs Cup semi final is out of the way, but Lose and those games against Montreal and DC United in the league next week become very much must win games.
So, a result matters more than it usually would in this fixture, but how exactly can that happen? Beyond all the usual "anything can happen, it's a funny old game, the ball is round" cliches, is there really any reason for hope, and what sort of lineup will we see put out there? I'll take a stab at those questions after the jump.
The players and coaches are of course making all the right optimistic noises about getting a result here, with Aron Winter going as far as to confidently assure us all that TFC will make the playoffs this year. Stop sniggering at the back. Simply making the playoffs seems a comically lofty goal for the year, but getting at least a point today could certainly happen, unlikely as it seems. Real Salt Lake have struggled recently, albeit against much better teams than TFC, and after playing on Wednesday, there may hopefully be fatigue issues that will work in TFC's favour. Add in the fact that, as feeble of an excuse as it is, luck certainly hasn't been on TFC's side recently, and after a couple of results that could plausibly be described as harsh, TFC are probably due a good result that they maybe don't deserve.
Formation wise, unless Winter is bluffing, the news from training is that Torsten Frings will be moved into midfield. This is a very good thing, with Adrian Cann now relied upon to ensure the back 4 can stand on it's own 8 feet without Frings having to hold their hands. Logan Emory was alongside Adrian Cann in training, which isn't a bad thing, as aside from a couple of high profile blunders, he's looked decent at the back. Richard Eckersley and Ashtone Morgan will once again be the full backs, and they'll have to do a good job of balancing their attacking instincts with their defensive responsibilities. For Eckersley especially, trying to do too much has often led to bad decisions and ill timed tackles, so that's something that needs to be avoided.
In midfield with Frings, there aren't really that many options. With Luis Silva sick and Ryan Johnson filling in for the injured Danny Koevermans at Centre Forward, it's more than likely we'll see Terry Dunfield and Julian de Guzman. For all the wailing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over how the season's gone so far, and the lack of quality in the squad and so on and so forth, it's worth looking back at the corresponding fixture from last season. that saw a midfield of Nathan Sturgis, Dan Gargan and Gianluca Zavarise, that's got to make you feel better right.
The other midfield option not mentioned above is Eric Avila, and all indications are that he'll be actually shuffled out to the Left Wing replacing Joao Plata. It's not a bad decision if that's where he plays as Plata hasn't exactly been setting the world on fire recently, and at the very least Avila should improve things on the defensive side of things, where TFC's wide players often don't do enough to help out the regularly outnumbered Central Midfield. Exactly where Avila plays will be an interesting thing to look out for early on, there's been many calls for Winter to be pragmatic and go with a 4-4-2, is this his way of doing that?
Ryan Johnson will of course be at Centre Forward again, and hopefully after having shots cleared off the line or hitting the woodwork in the last couple of games, he'll get that little bit of luck to translate those efforts into goals. He'll have his work cut out for him of course against Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers, and it could be a long night, as I think there'll be a defensive focus that will mean he doesn't get that much support from the midfield.
On the Right Wing, well that'll be Reggie Lambe and let's hope he can continue the good form he showed against Chicago, thoug I'm not entirely convinced by him yet. With a few mediocre games, and now two goals in one game, one spectacular and one a simple finish to a good team move, he's earned his Javier Martina badge, now he needs to earn his Nick Soolsma badge by showing he can be a consistent performer.
So that's what it looks like we'll be seeing, with most intrigue coming from how exactly the midfielders are organised. If it is Frings, Dunfield and de Guzman, well there's no obvious creative attacking midfielder in that bunch, so I'd guess at a point back midfield three, with frings as the DM, Dunfield providing the energy, tackling and harrying to stop RSL's midfield from getting too comfortable and de Guzman, hopefully with a bit of a point to prove after repeated recent benchings providing the possession and control and linking with the forwards.
Will Frings' return to the midfield be enough to improve TFC's play? I'd say yes. Will it give them a chance of getting a result? Sure, a small one, but I'm not really getting my hopes up for this one. Probably the best we can hope for is an improved performance being enough to quiet the doubters for now, and give us some signs of hope and promise for the next few games.