The season is just barely two months old and come Wednesday evening Toronto FC and Montreal Impact will be meeting for the third time already. This will be the first time this season that the two have met at BMO Field and despite only being May it is possibly the most important game of Aron Winter's time at the club.
The run to the Champions League semi-finals was great and filled with all kinds of biggest games ever but with the club falling flat on their faces out of the gate to start the MLS season that run is not going to be enough to save Winter's job for much longer. The Dutchman is in year two of his three year plan but with the MLS season already getting away from his side after 8 straight losses, that leaves the Voyageurs Cup as the last hope. I have no clue what the higher ups at the club are thinking but you would have to imagine a defeat to Montreal would all but seal the coach's exit from the club.
In the first leg it was clear that Toronto set out to defend and try and either steal a 1-0 win or come away with a 0-0 draw. They got that 0-0 draw but really showed nothing at all going forward and if it had not been a for a total lack of quality in the final third from the Impact things would have been looking a whole lot worse.
The Reds hung on thanks to some poor finishing and some very good work in goal from Milos Kocic but the clean sheet came at the cost of having no attack at all. For most of the game Ryan Johnson was a completely isolated figure up front and his frustration was evident as he rarely saw the ball.If Toronto tries to play like that again in the second leg and just pack it in at the back, I would bet my bottom dollar that at some point in the 90 minutes the Impact will find a way to pick up that vital away goal. If they do get that one goal, it might very well put the game beyond the reach of TFC as they have rarely been able to fight back from any sort of deficit this season. Instead, Winter will hopefully take a more balanced approach and look to create more chances for his own side in hopes of actually playing with the lead for once this season. So often this year the team has fallen behind early and it has damaged their mental state, leaving them in no position to fight back. That is why Winter is going to need to set his team up to go for it in this one and hopefully find a goal in the opening half hour for once that might just provide that needed boost of confidence.
The lineup will likely be similar to what we saw a week ago in Montreal but with a few changes due to the latest injury news. It seems that Winter could have Nick Soolsma and possibly Danny Koevermans back in the lineup for this game as both are participating in at least some of the training this week. Soolsma has been out for nearly a month with a hamstring injury, but having made his return to training with the first team this week he should be in line to at least take some part in this match. Koevermans is a bit more of a question mark as he has yet to rejoin the first team in training but continues to work on his fitness levels on his own. To see the big Dutch forward on the bench is quite possible at this point, but it would be a big surprise to see him included in the starting lineup.
The other area of concern for the team is of course the status of Torsten Frings. He left the game against DC United in clear pain and clutching at his shoulder area. He was not at training on Tuesday which will certainly leave him questionable for the midweek fixture, with Winter offering up an apparently unconvincing 'maybe' when asked about it by the media. If the German skipper is carrying any sort of a knock Winter might be wise to just rest him for this game and take advantage of being able to give him an extended break with the club's next match not being for 10 days.
The issue is that if Aron Winter really is feeling that his job is on the line heading into this game he might feel the need to rush his two DPs back in hopes of getting a result and then giving them the ten days to recover before playing DC United again. That would be very foolish of him and short sighted though as neither will be able to have their normal impact if they are less than fully fit.
Even if they are out though it still leaves Winter with a lot of choices in his lineup. The absence of Koevermans will all but assure that Johnson will be again up front. Who will join him in the attack remains to be seen as the potential return of Soolsma means that he, Joao Plata, Reggie Lambe, Eric Avila, and Luis Silva are all available to fill attacking roles. If Frings is unavailable that will almost certainly mean a partnership between Julian De Guzman and Terry Dunfield at holding midfield. Behind them the back four will likely be Ashtone Morgan, Adrian Cann, Doneil Henry, and either Richard Eckersley or Jeremy Hall.
It seems that the return to fitness of Hall is going to cause Ecks to have to fight for his minutes from now on. That could very well be a good thing as the Englishman has struggled defensively this season despite being an automatic selection to start up until last week. If he does head to the bench again for this one it would be less about Winter sending him a message and more about the coach preferring the more defensively responsible Hall over the attack minded Eckersley.
No matter who the eleven players Winter selects are, one thing is clear. If his time at this club is going to come to an end he is going to go down playing the game his way. Their continues to be no signs that he is considering making any sort of tactical adjustments as he continues to use various adaptations of his 4-3-3 formation. He has never come close to installing total football at Toronto FC but that won't stop him from trying once more on Wednesday night. If Toronto loses and he really does get sacked in the morning at least he will be able to say, "I did it my way!"