It seems like forever ago that Toronto FC last played a game and for many of us it was a much needed break from what has turned into a fairly depressing season. Despite hoisting the Voyageurs Cup and finally winning a league game before the break TFC did decide that it was time to part ways with head coach Aron Winter.
When they return to the field against Sporting Kansas City at Livestrong Park it will be the beginning of the 7th different coaching regime at the club. Fans will be hoping that the combination of rest over the international break and the new coach will breath some new life into the club and that they can improve in the second third of the season. Getting more points should be easy for a team that has picked up just the one win in their first 10 matches.
If they want to improve it will really come down to working on the basic things. They have conceded 2.1 goals per game, the worst in the league by quite a distance. A lot of that has just come from the team losing their shape, neglecting to mark, and being undone by set pieces. Those small mistakes are things that professionals should be able to cut down on and at least give the team a chance to win. It is one thing to be beaten by good work from the opposition but too often for Toronto FC it has been their own mistakes that have led to goals.
At the other end of the field the problem is a much more surprising one. This was a squad that was supposed to be able to score goals led by Danny Koevermans and Ryan Johnson but instead they have converted a paltry 0.8 goals per game. Aron Winter put it down to a lack of sharpness a number of times but the good news is that Koevermans has been showing some better form in recent MLS games while Johnson is starting to score outside of league games and will hope to carry that over.It is hard to say what to expect in any game like this. When teams have been off for such a long period of time you never know if they will come out rusty or come out flying having had time to rest up and prepare. You also never really know how a team is going to react to being under a new coach. Often times it can fire a team up and help them collect a surprising result but when the new coach brings in a number of changes it can take the team some time to adjust.
I think we may see some of the former from TFC this weekend. They should come in hungry to impress their new coach and with the exception of the players who were off on international duty they will all have had a week of training to get used to the changes. It will be up to the likes of Ashtone Morgan, Julian De Guzman, and Johnson to come back into the squad and blend quickly as they will have had the least time to work with the new coach.
It is likely that Mariner will switch to a more straight forward 4-4-2 in hopes of solidifying the team's shape. The move away from Winter's preferred 4-3-3 will raise some questions about where some players are going to fit best. The backline will remain fairly simple as those roles should not change much other than the outside defenders possibly being asked to stay at home a bit more. Mariner will have his choices to make in terms of personnel with Morgan, Adrian Cann, Doneil Henry, and Jeremy Hall being the preferred group heading into the break but Richard Eckersley, Miguel Aceval, and Ty Harden all certain to be hoping to find more minutes under the new coach.
It is the midfield where things get a bit more confusing. On the outside, a change to the 4-4-2 will mean a bit more two-way responsibility for the wingers. That role suits Nick Soolsma the best of the bunch but will certainly present a challenge for Joao Plata and Reggie Lambe to adjust to. There is also the option, and it might be a good one, of putting Eric Avila on the wing as he brings a bit more in terms of tracking back than either of the flashier wingers.
In the middle of the park it comes down to a question of what roles you want the midfielders to play. A pairing of De Guzman and Torsten Frings would be solid but also very defensive. What that partnership would do is allow the German to orchestrate the middle of the park and be the linchpin in starting attacks which is a role that he does well is. That then leaves JDG to be more of the ball winner and man marker which could also work out well as he is coming off a good run with Canada. That leaves the likes of Terry Dunfield, Matt Stinson, and Luis Silva also available if they want to make changes.
Up front, the options are quite thin. If you go with two strikers the logical choice is to go with Johnson and Koevermans but there is basically no natural choice to back the two of them up. Silva is capable of playing in an even more advances role but his lack of size would make it difficult to go up against most MLS center backs. The other option is Keith Makabuya but he seems to be so far away from the first team that it would be a surprise to see him get any serious minutes this year.
In the end the formation and the players selected are not going to matter if the guys on the field do not put in the work to get the result. SKC is not exactly an easy team to beat and they are even tougher at their new park. They are 5-1-0 at home this season so TFC is going to be up against it to come away with a result. The good news is that Toronto has done well against them in the past which should give them hope of picking up their first road point of the season.