Ah the home opener, for real this time. The chance to visit your favourite nearby drinking establishment pre or post game, sit in your usual seats that are actually at a proper angle to and distance from the pitch, wear and hold aloft the new scarf that has actually been delivered in time for this one, and enjoy a glass of, well Budweiser now, yay to that one I guess, it all just feels right. The other 'authentic' aspect to the game is of course that after 3 games on turf and under domes, there'll finally be a grass pitch underneath our brave boys in red, with what is so far promising to be a sunny blue sky above them.
There's one thing though that won't quite feel right, that seems a bit like a watered down version of itself, and happily for Toronto FC, that's their opponents, anyone expecting the glitz and glamour of MLS' flagship club might leave the game a bit confused. It is of course an undermanned Galaxy side we'll get to see. The underwear model (who thinks you're poor and unknown because God hates you) has gone off to Paris, while Landon Donovan has finally brought his little soul searching expedition to an end (was it the start of the season that brought him back? no. The Hex? no. A chance to visit the White House again? yep, that's the ticket.) So he's probably out for this one, and LA's 3rd and final (officially at least) DP from last year may well be out as well. Robbie Keane picked up an injury playing for the Republic of Ireland, a calf strain, and while there's nothing official that I've seen, it seems unlikely they'd throw him into this one, not with a CCL semi final coming up in midweek. Barring some unlikely quick healing miracle (it is Easter after all) TFC will get lucky and miss both the big glamorous names up front.
So who will TFC see instead. Well the unglamorous but prolific Mike Magee is an obvious threat still, and they still have plenty of quality throughout the squad. Carlo Cudicini, Omar Gonzalez (hopefully not so fresh off his exploits with the USMNT this week, will he get rested for the CCL game? I hope so.), Todd Dunivant, Juninho and so on and so forth. Up front there's a good chance we'll see two teenagers in Jose Villarreal and Jack McBean, hopefully that means the story will be the kids being easily bullied by the experienced Danny Califf and Darren O'Dea combo rather than running rings around the old guys with their youthful energy.
Yeah, there's still plenty to worry about with the Galaxy who've got off to a good start even without Donovan, 2-1-0 in the league and through to that aforementiond semi final. That will hopefully serve as a distraction, but maybe TFC won't need that kind of help, for whatever reason LA always seems to have trouble in Toronto, with just one win in 6 games in all competitions, back in 2009. There's been 4 ties, so it's not like TFC's killing them either but still, I'll count that record as a moral victory. The last two league games between the 2 have ended in 0-0 draws, and you've got to think that a point and a good defensive showing would be a quite satisfactory outcome for Nelsen and co if we get that again
The key of course for Toronto maybe getting more than that will be where the goals come from. L.A. have got more than enough to handle a one man attack, so hopefully some others can step up and help Robert Earnshaw out. Who might those 'some others' be? Well, the oft talked about 'couple of Hondurans' aren't here, and Maximiliano Urruti still isn't either, so it's probably more of the same really.
Starting at the back, and though Stefan Frei is back, mask free and available, all indications from training and comments from Ryan Nelsen suggest that they'll keep going with Joe Bendik, that it's his job to lose. It could be seen as harsh on Frei, but it makes a certain amount of sense and Bendik's certainly done nothing to lose the job so far. His distribution could certainly be worked on, his kicks long but rarely accurate, but he's done the more important stuff, making saves and controlling his area, well and can't be blamed for any of the goals conceded so far.
In defence is where things will start getting interesting as all the tweets and comments coming out of training over the last few days suggest that Ashtone Morgan's likely to be dropped, with Richard Eckersley shuffling over to the left and Darell Russel taking the right back spot. We saw that towards the end of the Montreal game, though Montreal were very much in 'sit back and protect the lead' mode so it wasn't the best time to base a judgement on. Danny Califf and Darren O'Dea should once again be the central defenders, seems odd to have that area of the team be the most stable and impressive.
In midfield, it seems that Julio Cesar and Luis Silva probably aren't quite match fit yet so are unlikely to start, therefore it'll more than likely be Terry Dunfield and Jeremy Hall in the defensive midfield spots again, with the Reggie Lambe, Hogan Ephraim and John Bostock triumvirate providing the attacking support to Robert Earnshaw.
The most alarming stat out of the many put out in this article by Duane Rollins is that so far, through 3 games, Earnshaw is the only player with an actual shot on target, with only 19 attempted shots all together through the first 3 games. The focus on defence so far is a sensible and welcome one, but somehow those stats have to improve if TFC are to hope to be an attacking threat this year. Ideally it'd be via improvements to the squad that enable the same defensive focus to be maintained and let the increased quality take care of things up front. Unless Luis Silva is ready to go, or unless this is going to be Reggie's 1 in 6 it's probably not going to happen for this game, a 3rd consecutive 0-0 finish probably isn't a bad bet at all.