If April is the cruelest month, May is not far behind; but with June on the horizon, perhaps it is time for Toronto FC to get off the mat and show some of that fighting spirit the front office is always on about.
For their last match of the third month of the season, TFC head to New England, a less-than-kind locale, for a meeting with the Revolution.
Some may recall that Danny Koevermans suffered his knee injury in a 0-1 win on Gillette Stadium’s atrocious green-concrete turf last July, virtually ending the club’s season. However, the big Dutchman is back and raring to go – by all accounts; could it be that Toronto finally has the dual-pronged threat at the front that is necessitated by their study defensive structure?
In any rebuild the first task is to lock down the back, granted the definition of locked in this case is a little vague, but scoring has been the true cause of their troubles, with only four goals through their last six games.
New England will be no easy foe.
Stingy at the back, crafty through the middle, and with a raft of strikers of all shapes and sizes; coach Jay Heaps can throw a number of different looks at an opponent.
A closer look at the Revolution is in order.
Heaps has tinkered with his lineup a fair bit through the early season, with injury playing its role, but what has emerged is a balanced attack that has seen them pick up points in four of their last five matches after struggling for goals through their first six.
After settling for a 4-1-4-1 formation, the turning point came with the decision to move their outside midfielders – Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe - into the middle of the park.
Their projected lineup is as follows: Bobby Shuttleworth in goal; from right to left – Andrew Farrell, Stephen McCarthy, Jose Goncalves, and Chris Tierney across the back; Clyde Simms holding at the base with Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, and Ryan Guy across the midfielder; and Juan Agudelo up top.
Matt Reis is back in training having admirably seen through the near-tragic circumstances involving his father-in-law and the Marathon Bombings, but has yet to return to the pitch with Shuttleworth filling in admirably.
Defender AJ Soares – he who injured Koevermans, in conjunction with the turf – should be fit from hamstring concern, but there is no reason to disrupt a successful back-line.
Tierney, an attack-minded left-back, should return to the starting lineup from the bench, replacing Darius Barnes, who Heaps seems to favour as more of a stay at home defender on the road.
Simms, who returned from concussion-symptoms, took over the defensive midfield role from Kalifa Cisse, who himself could return, but again, there is little need to change a successful midfield.
Juan Toja deputized for Rowe last week, with the latter nursing some calf tightness, but, for now, the Colombian seems more a bench player – along with Andy Dorman, returned from a spell in Scotland – than a first-choice starter.
Guy was forced off early in their last match, which could see either Toja or Dorman in the starting lineup, but there is no word as of yet on whether it will affect his availability.
Up top any number of strikers could take that lone spot.
Sair Sene is fit after a knee ligament injury ended his season, but he has struggled to show the explosive form that marked him out as a threat – he could also feature on the left of midfield to add some more attacking verve, if less defensive work, than the industrious Guy.
Dimitry Imbongo will be unavailable, having picked up a red card against Houston for his tussle with Bobby Boswell.
Then, there is the big Honduran, Jerry Bengtson, who has yet to really find his feet in MLS, struggling for goals as a lone striker and finally, Chad Barrett, Toronto’s old friend, whose minutes have been few and far between.
Agudelo only recently joined the side from Chivas in the latest of a series of bizarre trades from the Ameri-Goats, but his strong showing from the bench in Houston and the Revolution’s need for goals and interplay from the front-man make him the strongest candidate – and it would be his home debut.
As mentioned goal-scoring – or the lack thereof – has defined their season to date; two goals through their first six matches led to five points (two scoreless draws and a one-goal win over Chicago), while six through their last five matches have led to eight points (another scoreless draw and wins over Philadelphia and Houston).
Their stingy defense – only nine goals allowed through eleven matches – means they are always in matches, having only once lost by more than a single goal – a 4-1 match in New York on April 20th, their first after the bombings, a match in which the score-line was not indicative of the play with New York grabbing a late pair in the final ten minutes after scoring twice and conceding an own goal in the first ten.
That match, an attempt at playing two strikers in 4-4-2, was the one that precipitated their new formation with Fagundez moving out right and Rowe and Nguyen into the middle for the 2-0 win over Philadelphia that followed. Their first goal was a product of the two midfielders passing to create for Fagundez, while the second came from a Nguyen pass to Sene and a late run from the midfielder to finish the rebound.
A stoic score-less draw in Portland against the red-hot Timbers with the help of several brilliant saves from Shuttleworth was not as one-sided as some may have thought – and the stats seem to indicate – with more than a few chances falling the way of the Revolution.
They followed that with a 1-2 loss at home against Salt Lake that had the air of a TFC match, with New England going ahead on a lovely volley at the top of the box from Guy, only to crumble to a pair of scrappy goals in the final quarter of an hour and then missing a 92nd minute penalty kick – after the takers quarreled over who should have it - to add insult to injury.
They rebounded with a 1-1 draw against New York, but were again undone by a moment of weakness when Lloyd Sam leveled less than a minute after Fagundez had broken the deadlock.
It was Fagundez again who opened the scoring in Houston – his third in their last five matches, all since moving out wide – but this time they held firm and added a second when Agudelo linked up with Nguyen and Tierney, then directed the second-chance towards goal where Ricardo Clark turned it into his own net.
The second part of the series can now be found right here, going through game film looking at the goals scored in their matches and highlighting some points of interest.