Toronto FC First Kick vs Vancouver Whitecaps

How many times will that be Joe Bendik today? - Jeff Vinnick

First Kick is here!! Today the new season officially begins. Feel the excitement! Or the mild lessening of apathy. Or something. Even the most cynical of you have to be a bit excited; right? Right? OK, as you were...

They're baaack!! Yes boys and girls it is finally here - MLS, and more importantly, TFC are back! It's First Kick!! OK, so I'm a little excited, on to business. After what was quite frankly a horrific 2012 season (except for that shiny Voyageur's Cup) and an off season brought to you by the patented Toronto FC rebuild we've all been in a bit of a funk. And yes, I realize that "a bit" is an understatement.

But fear not Reds fans, we've got a new President - OK, the only president we've ever had - but still, a new President! Oh and a new coach - OK, he's never coached before - but still, a new coach! And even better, a (mostly) new team - OK, a lot of them are really untested - but still, a new team! Alright, I can see that I'm not convincing you and as seasoned, jaded TFC fans I get that. As we've said many, many times this is going to be a challenging season for our Reds. Lowered expectations (the lower the better really) is the motto for 2013 - at least if you don't want to be gnashing your teeth and slowly pounding your head against the wall every week. We're looking to the fall and beyond to 2014 when hopefully all of the moves being made by Payne and Nelsen will gel into (for possibly the first time ever) a cohesive, competitive, hard working team - for longer than a few months that is.

Up first in what is sure to be a trying season is the team we love to troll, the Vancouver Whitecaps - Kickoff at 6:30 pm on TSN. Games against the Whitecaps are always extra emotional for we the supporters love nothing more than to taunt our smug brothers from the west. And you know regardless of how much we resemble "the worst team in the world", always beating them; if not in the season series then at the very least - you see where I'm going with this, right?

Last season even though the Caps finished far ahead of us (OK, who didn't?) and made their first ever appearance in the playoffs (we're not jealous, really, not one bit), Toronto FC continued to completely own them in the Canadian Championships and once again took home the Voyageurs Cup. In what has become an almost yearly tradition of dashing the hopes of Vancouver (best tradition ever?), our Reds won the Cup here at home in a what Caps fans will tell you was yet another stolen game - this time the refereeing was unfair - in a long list of Voyageurs Cup winning games between our Reds and Vancouver. You remember that game, right? The 'slap' heard round the world when Jun Marques Davidson went down like he was shot when JDG (good luck in Europe) barely touched him? Ah, memories...

But what was even better, was *that* game - you know the one - the game in July where Darren Mattocks thought he'd silenced us all, (come to the south end again with that, we dare you) with the tying goal, only to be shut up when Terry (MF) Dunfield headed the ball in during added time. Not only did that result in one of the best goal celebrations ever, but it was yet another delicious dig at our west coast rivals. Hey in a season like last year's you take the joy where you can find it.

That was then and this is now. Today's game will certainly be underscored by a Caps team looking for some revenge over their (lack of) results against Toronto last season. The home crowd (apparently a sellout) and the fact that it's First Kick will give the Caps a huge amount of energy and emotion to feed off of and they're likely feeling confident that they've got the better team - so walk in the park for Vancouver, right?

Well to be honest, yes. There are many reasons why Vancouver will likely walk away with a victory today - two of them are Darren Mattocks and Kenny Miller. As much as I (we) dislike both of them there is no denying the potent offensive threat that they represent. And they've got Daigo Kobayashi (which screams unwinnable situation - come on, Star Trek - anyone?) at the centre mid just waiting to set them up. They will present an immediate challenge to TFC's new and improved (hey, they are improved) back line that finally has (we hope) a solid CB pairing in Darren O'Dea and Danny Califf.

Joining Califf and O'Dea will be Richard Eckersley (back where he belongs at RB) and Ashtone Morgan at LB. Ashtone hasn't played much recently as he was recovering from a knock, but he was in full practice with the team yesterday and pronounced ready to go today. I look forward to seeing both of them fly up the wings in support of whatever kind of attack our Reds can cobble together. But it will be more important to see what they've learned on the defensive side and ensuring they track back to support the CBs - not strengths for either Ecks or Ashtone.

And it will be all about the defense today, and whether or not new coach Ryan Nelsen has got the back four to a place where our Reds don't leak goals to, well everyone. Because it's not likely going to be about the offense. Even with the rash of signings yesterday the most likely to contribute to the attack - Robert Earnshaw - is still an unknown to play today as his paperwork gets sorted out. And with Justin Braun (will he be missed?) and Luis Silva both back in Toronto recovering from injury, there's not a lot to look to for offensive help. Expect Hogan Ephraim to start on the left and Taylor Morgan (perhaps Emery Welshman) to start up top and probably Reggie Lambe on the right; supported by Terry Dunfield, Jeremy Hall and umm, well your guess is as good as mine as Julio Cesar is also still back in Toronto...we just can't have nice things, can we?

The one thing that may work to TFC's advantage today is that Vancouver and coach Martin Rennie have as little knowledge of our squad as we do! For once the 'guess the player' game could work for us instead of against us. Does this mean I think that they're going to win? No, I'm pretty sure that they're going to lose. And in an odd way I'm alright with that. Please don't misunderstand; I am not suddenly OK with TFC losing games - I am not - but I recognize that they're not going to win a lot, certainly not out of the gate.

As for today? I'm just happy that they're back. And I am. Like pretty much everyone else I was bitter, frustrated and just plain unhappy at the end of last season. And the offseason has not been the easiest as this version of the annual TFC teardown is still in progress; but damnit - that's our team. And we get to watch them play for the next eight months, so hell yes I'm excited about today - regardless of the results. Welcome back boys; try to show us something to make sure we're all still around eight months from now, OK?

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