Two weeks can sometimes feel like forever.
A pair of close losses to Canadian foes, interspersed by an unexpected win over Kansas City at the SkyDome, was a better than forecasted commencement to yet another season where rebuilding was the buzz at Toronto FC.
These past two weeks the club has been able to take stock of the new arrivals, commit some time to the practice field, and relax after the excitement of kicking off the season.
TFC's start to 2013 begins anew on Saturday – they will not have another such break until mid-May - with their proper home opener at BMO against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
But what to expect from the reigning two-time MLS Cup Champions? David Beckham - and his dwindling circus - has gone; Landon Donovan has only just begun to stir from his extended hibernation; but despite these key losses they have simply rolled on. A closer look at this weekend's enemy is in order.
Heading into the match there is at least one major unknown regarding player availability. Robbie Keane, de facto leader – Galactically speaking - with the departure of Beckham and the absence of Donovan, picked up a calf strain against Sweden on international duty with Ireland, forcing him to miss his nation's Tuesday match against Austria.
It is uncertain whether he will be available on Saturday, he was to be evaluated by the clubs doctors upon his return and LA, expectedly, has been quiet on releasing those details. Should he be unavailable, it is likely that LA will continue with the teenage strike force of Jose Villareal and Jack McBean who started their recent match against Colorado.
The projected lineup is as follows: Carlo Cudicini in goal, from right to left: Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, AJ DeLaGarza, and Todd Dunivant across the back; Mike Magee, Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas, and Colin Clark through the midfield, and the tandem of McBean and Villareal up top.
Brazilian centre-back Leonardo, who did well in the absence of Gonzalez – away with the US during the international break – against Colorado, could retain his place alongside the returning star defender allowing DeLaGarza to move over to the right-back position, pushing Franklin into the midfield and switching Magee over to the left.
Or Gonzalez could be rested all together, follow his exertions with the national team in order to be prepared for Wednesday.
Should Keane indeed be fit, he could be paired with one of the young strikers, or Magee, with whom he formed such a deadly partnership against Chicago.
LA begins their Champions League semifinal tie against Mexican club Monterrey on Wednesday in California and it is possible that the importance of that looming series affects Arena's thoughts.
Getting into the mind of Arena can treacherous for projections: is it better to rest players or make sure they are match fit and ready with Wednesday looming large?
LA is one of two unbeaten sides remaining in MLS – Montreal the other – though that record and a pair of four-goal performances obscures some lacklustre performances.
Sure, the dominant opening Sunday 4-0 victory over Chicago, featuring a Magee hat-trick and a Keane – who was involved in all three of his fellow attacker’s goals – single, was a statement that this club would not suffer the same championship hangover that derailed their start last season.
The club even cancelled all the Beckham-related world-wide touring chicanery in order to achieve some much needed rest after two years of hard toil.
Their Rivalry Week showdown with across-the-hall neighbours, Chivas USA, disappointingly – for LA at least – ended in a 1-1 draw, this despite having a man advantage for some fifty minutes, after referee Ricardo Salazar bizarrely dismissed Joaquin Velazquez.
It took the Galaxy forty-three minutes after the sending off to find the lead that afternoon and even that was more by chance than design – a deflected Magee ball, clipped off of Carlos Borja towards McBean, who did well to readjust his body and poke a looping header agonizingly beyond the reach of Dan Kennedy in the Chivas goal.
Last weekend against Colorado, it was a similar twist of fate that earned LA the three points, when, in what can only be described as a moment of madness, Drew Moor lashed out at Sarvas with a back-hander, was shown red, and conceded a penalty kick in one foul swoop.
LA went on to win 1-0, Magee duly converting from the spot, but considering both Pablo Mastroeni and Diego Calderon were forced off in the first half through injury, further depleting an already hampered Colorado, a truly in-form defending champion would have twisted the knife, if they could.
Colorado goalkeeper, Clint Irwin, making his first start after replacing Matt Pickens, who broke his arm, early the previous match, stood on his head, thrice denying McBean sure-goals.
They duly dispatched Costa Rican side, Herediano, in the Champions League quarterfinal tie, seeing out a goal-less result on the road – having a goal incorrectly ruled offside and conceding a penalty that was missed, just to heighten the drama – before taking care of business at home with a 4-1 win to progress.
Regardless of who starts, LA, in attack, will look to stretch the field both horizontally and vertically. In Dunivant and Franklin they possess two of the finer attacking full-backs in the league and they will get forward regularly.
No longer required to slow the pace to fit the style of a certain player, the midfield duo of Juninho and Sarvas control the match in a more spritely fashion – Juninho is the more defensive-minded of the duo, while Sarvas will get forward to support
They can still hit those raking long balls to produce a quick counter or switch the point of attack at will.
McBean, now eighteen years old in his third season with the club, is a big, strong target, if still growing – both physically and in the game. He has an innate positional sense, finding himself in the open and doing well to get on the end of chances, as he did for his header against Chivas.
Villareal, nineteen in his second season, likes a shot from anywhere; recall his first goal in MLS – a screamer against Vancouver last season - and his starring role for the U-20s in Mexico recently.
Magee, whether from the wide positions or as a support striker, will sneak into the box unmarked, he is particularly adept at finding space, while his ability to link up play, particularly with Keane, and a deft touch at finishing were evidenced by his three-goal performance versus Chicago.
With Gonzalez in the back, finding space in the air can be difficult, but Robert Earnshaw with his twisty, worrying ways will provide a challenge to the dominant defender, should he start.
Collectively, the back-line absolutely fell asleep on Chivas' equalizer, perhaps betraying a flaw in their focus.
The goal was one of precise movement and a fine use of space in the corner and exploiting the lack of coverage at the back-post. This is an area where Toronto can find some joy, with John Bostock and Hogan Ephraim moving the ball and Earnshaw finding that space in the middle.
Cudicini, their goalkeeper, should be tested at every opportunity. He has done well in his few matches with the club, but hasn't been required to do much.
Here he denies Maicon Santos' free-kick bomb, but he appears a little unsure of his positioning and surely has a gaffe or two in his locker after not playing much over his final years in England.
Points of Interest
This is the only meeting between the two clubs this season after meeting thrice in 2012.
Toronto progressed to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League at LA’s expense after a 2-2 draw at the Dome and a 1-2 win at the Home Depot Center.
TFC then lost 4-2 away in their lone MLS fixture; the Galaxy finding some small measure of revenge via braces from Keane and Juninho.
Their last visit to Toronto was a scoreless draw in 2011; it was their third such scoreless draw away to TFC – the others coming in their first visit in 2007 and in 2010.
Todd Dunivant will be returning to the club where he spent two seasons, hampered by injury, before going on to such success with the Californian giants.