Here we go again, round 3 of the season against Vancouver, with Toronto FC very deservedly clinching the first two games, 2:1 on aggregate, and only an injury time Eric Hassli goal away from winning each individual match. That meant TFC won their 4th straight Voyageurs Cup, which is of course 4 more than Vancouver have ever won which is a deliciously fun, if petty, thing to hold on to through another disastrous league season.
Sadly I did eventually have to mention that word. League. That's where delusions of superiority come crashing down as TFC's recent uptick under Paul Mariner, has merely seen them go from the worst team in the world to the worst team in MLS (make no mistake, 1 point per game is very much bottom of the league form). A welcome improvement for sure, but while we're taking a few faltering steps towards respectability, Martin Rennie's Whitecaps side have already racked up 8 wins, 30 points and an 8 point cushion on the 6th place team in the Western Conference. An impressive collection of forwards, Hassli, le Toux, Camilo has been improved by the recent emergence of draft pick Darren Mattocks who's been scoring plenty of goals recently, and all seems sunny over on the West Coast. Scottish DP Barry Robson is also now available, and his addition has meant a bit of a change to how they line up, basically now a 4-2-3-1, but go check out James' Know Your Enemy for a lot more insight on that.
Despite that, they still haven't really been a prolific team, scoring barely over a goal a game so far, 19 in 18, and away from home they're particularly dull and unproductive goals wise, if still getting decent results, with just 6 goals in 9 games so far. Defensively on the road, they've been either really good, or really bad, with 5 clean sheets, and just the one goal allowed in Portland offset by letting in 4 goals once and 3 goals twice.
The formbook can be put aside for this one though as there's a little more emotion involved with the Whitecaps looking for revenge for the cup defeat, and also let's not forget the handbags that exploded in the second leg and led to Julian de Guzman viciously punching out Jun Marques Davidson, who bravely managed to play the remainder of the game despite what must have been quite the concussion from the blow. I'm not one to tut-tut at a good brouhaha, so given how the season's gone so far, some similar shenanigans would be welcome entertainment.
Mentioning Julian de Guzman brings us to what has been the main talking point since Sunday's defeat in Philadelphia, and what will no doubt inform most lineup speculation, fatigue and the possibility of squad rotation to counter that. The shorter than usual Sunday to Wednesday break will surely mean some changes, and de Guzman in for any of the midfielders not named Torsten Frings would seem one obvious change. Nick Soolsma, Luis Silva, maybe Doneil Henry might make their way into the side if mariner does feel the need to freshen things up a bit as well.
After his nightmare showing against Philadelphia, there may well be calls for Logan Emory to be returned back to the benchy netherworld from which he was only recently liberated, but I'd keep him in there, as he'd played a big part in the defensive improvement in the few previous games. I think part of the problem in Philadelphia, aside from the fatigue was that the defence seemed to be playing a lot higher up the pitch, trying to compress the pitch, while hoping for the offside trap to counter the obvious long balls played into the space behind them. A
As much as it didn't work, I think that was a slight evolution in tactics from Mariner after seemingly getting the basics down. The first few games saw some pretty disastrous attempts to settle into the new formation and style, which was much more defensive and seemed to involve a lot more sitting back, maintaining position and playing safe from the defence. But then they seemed to get it right, with consecutive goals against of 0, 1 and 1, so i think Mariner decided ok, now let's take it up a notch and try and play a bit more of a pro active pressuring defence, offside trap, high line, try and force turnovers in midfield and not let the opposition attack us as much.
Much like earlier in the season when Aron Winter tried that, it didn't work out and we were exposed again and again, as with injuries and lack of options we don't really have the defensive skills or smarts to just get it right at the first attempt, but hopefully Mariner sticks with it and we will see an adjustment and improvement, similar to how we did after the defensively poor games in his first 3 games in charge.
Up front, well it'll obviously be Danny Koevermans and Ryan Johnson again, as there's no real alternatives in the squad, but hey, we're looking at a possible international back up goalie, yay for transfer window productivity. We'll probably be relying on Koevermans making space to take a chance that will come along, probably from a set piece. Given our defensive un-possessiony style of play, and Vancouver's effectively stultefying away form, this could be a dull one, let's hope there is a bit of added feistiness to give it some excitement.
Whatever the lineup and tactics, fatigue really shouldn't be used as an excuse as Vancouver are coming off their own road trip. this is their 4th consecutive away game for some reason, and in the last week they've travelled to Colorado, then down to Los Angeles to face Chivas before flying out to Toronto, so will hopefully have some issues of their own in that regard.
Of course, the result really doesn't mean anything for TFC, we're long past that stage, but slowing the Whitecaps down is a worthy goal. What with the sparkly new unbalanced schedule, this is the only league game against them this year (next year we won't even play them in the league at home) so a win here would clinch the season series in league as well as cup. Petty and pointless as it is, such bragging rights are about as much as TFC have to play for now, so let's go get them.