Well, if Toronto FC are going for the whole 'magnificently troll the paranoid Vancouver Whitecaps fans' angle that I talked about last week before the first leg, they really committed to the bit and went the extra mile in the last week. Preposterously bad defending against DC erased the happy memories of competence and confidence that the previous games against Montreal and Vancouver had given us. Another loss took the reds to 0-9 for the MLS season. We are of course now 'the worst team in the world' and the media scrums following practice on Tuesday left the media tweeting about gong shows and reporting on a team 'coming apart at the seams'. And yet this tie is very much up for grabs with the score tied and a TFC away goal in the bag. Feeling nervous Whitecaps fans? Ready to be known as the team that lost the cup to the worst team in the world?
Part of me feels strangely optimistic about this game, for no good reason beyond TFC's weird form so far. If they can produce one more out of character game in a cup competition, then last week showed that the Whitecaps are very much beatable. At the same time though, I feel that at some point TFC's cup form has got to revert to the norm of their league performances, and I also think that TFC's luck over the years against the Whitecaps in this competition is due to end, if it didn't already with the two missed chances, and two missed handball calls late in last week's game followed by Eric Hassli's stunning equaliser.
Would a win really be a good thing for TFC though? It certainly wouldn't do anything other than paper over the cracks of the season so far. the 'worst team in the world' record would still apply, all the sniping among the players, and presumably among different management factions would still be there, changes would still need to be made. A win that would delay any necessary changes may well be the worst possible outcome for TFC.
Having said that, I want that win. I wouldn't feel that much pride or triumph, but it'd bring a certain amount of relief, there'd also be a whole lot of schadenfreude involved in reading Vancouver media and supporters trying to figure out just how they managed to lose it this time, and I do enjoy me some schadenfreude. Mainly though, it'd mean there would actually be some point to the season, it wouldn't be merely all about building for 2013. I really don't think I'm ready for the season to be over with 25 games, and more than 5 months remaining.
Can they win? Tuesday's interviews give the impression of a dressing room in chaos, thoroughly lost by Aron Winter. Maybe though it's just a natural reaction to so much losing, the players' pride is stung so they'll come out fighting. The tepid play against DC on Saturday certainly doesn't suggest a team ready to fight it's way through adversity, but stranger things have happened, so we can only hope.
As for a lineup, I think we'll see TFC trying to play a similar game to what we saw in the first leg, 4-3-3 and not too defensive. It'll obviously be Kocic in goal, and I think it'll be the same back 4 even though Richard Eckersley's suspension is over. Jeremy Hall was the only one of the defenders who I don't remember making a costly mistake against DC, so I can see him continuing to get the start at Right Back.
In midfield, well much like the second leg against Montreal, I imagine Torsten Frings' shoulder will be pumped full of all sorts of pain killing injections to allow him to play in such an important game. Though he looked uncomfortable against the Impact, he did have another very good game, so though the long term effects of playing hurt worry me a bit, I'm confident he won't be hindered too much by it on the night and will put in his usual influential performance. Alongside him, Julian de Guzman has been playing well recently so will get the start ahead of Terry Dunfield and hopefully there wil be an Attacking Midfielder, whether Eric Avila or Luis Silva instead of Dunfield.
Up front, well Danny Koevermans is pissed off and desperate to win ugly. Let's hope he's ready to start and willing to take Adrian Cann's advice and do something about it. Getting a goal against DC will hopefully be the start of a run of form for him similar to what we all enjoyed last year, which will be crucial for any magical turnaround that might possibly happen. Koevermans at Centre Forward would free Ryan Johnson to move to Left Wing, a move that should benefit him by taking some of the pressure to be the main scoring threat, as well as meaning he'll get less physical punishment from Centre Backs. On the Right Wing, I'd bring Nick Soolsma in for his first start after a couple of sub appearances since coming back from injury.
Can TFC win? Maybe, but I wouldn't be holding out too much hope for that away goal to be the crucial difference. I'd imagine Eric Hassli will get the start, he's very much in form right now and has a very good record against TFC, so i'd confidently put money on him getting at least one against the shakiness that is TFC's defence. That means Danny Koevermans and the rest of the forward line will have to do their job and score however many goals are necessary, in short 'do something about it' as Adrian Cann less than diplomatically suggested yesterday.
If not, well there'll be all year for them to bicker and snipe at each other, and sadly, that element of soap opera would be the most interesting thing left in the season. Let's hope we can avoid that