It's been four long weeks since Toronto took to the pitch at BMO Field. Players have been released (bye Terry, bye Logan), friendlies have been announced (seriously, we're not talking about it), and more tantalizing hints of new players (Urutti finally?) have been dropped. After faltering through the the end of April and most of May, TFC seem to have regained their footing through the month of June. Undefeated so far, including a rare road win and the team seems to be finally showing small signs of improvement on the field.
So who better than to spoil this almost felicitous mood in TFCland than the league's best team, Real Salt Lake. They boast the second highest goals for record and are tied for third on the stingy list behind SKC and the Revs. Add to that the return of Joao Plata - the source of both joy (oh the Dallas game) and drama in his time here in Toronto - and well it's difficult to look at this as just another game.
Toronto's lineup has been the closest we've seen for a long long time to a consistent, stable one these past weeks, with only a brief change to Steven Caldwell's partner in the centre when Gale Agbossoumonde filled in for a suspended Doneil Henry. But don't get too settled on the players you see starting each game - both results, fitness and the Gold Cup will likely see some changes coming - if not tomorrow then in the coming weeks.
Results of course is in reference to the ongoing finishing issues suffered by TFC. Don't let those 3 goals in June- well, 2 plus an own goal, but they all count - fool you, Toronto continues to suffer up top - not just to score goals but to even put shots on net. Whereas fitness can only refer to Danny Koevermans and his return from injury. Already being looked at as the saviour for TFC's season, Koevermans made a statement in Toronto's reserve match against the Impact the other night, netting a brace in the 5-0 win over the Impact reserves.
While Koevermans has yet to see significant minutes in a league game, the fact that he was able to contribute goals is a welcome sign and should mean that it won't be long before he's back as part of the starting XI - although don't expect him to start tomorrow - more likely that he'll be a second half sub. What this will hopefully mean is that while Robert Earnshaw looks to get back onto a scoring streak, Ryan Nelsen now has a meaningful alternative to put out on the pitch if it's not happening for the Welshman.
A change that won't happen - but one I think should - is starting Luis Silva. I think it's time for Silva to sit and come on as an energetic sub in the second half and instead have Jeremy Brockie start up top with Earnshaw until Koef is fit enough to begin starting games. Silva and Earnshaw haven't really gelled as a duo and maybe it's time to put him back with Koef and see if that can find success.
Toronto's midfield will need to be on their game to deal with the smooth passing, patient attack and speed of RSL. This is probably the biggest danger - speed - Matias Laba has shown he is the real deal, but speedy isn't one of his many attributes. Both Jonathan Osorio and Bobby Convey will need to jump in to break up forward attacks. Also not the fleetest of foot? Our entire backline - this will mean the entire defense will need to be razor sharp and not drift. They cannot leave RSL players (the always dangerous Kyle Beckerman immediately comes to mind) unmarked.
And speaking of speed, what of Joao Plata? Plata's had a resurgence out in Utah and regardless of what your thoughts were of him when he played here he's been nothing short of impressive thus far this season. Looking more like he did in his rookie year, he's bagged a goal and four assists so far in the league this season in less than 900 minutes of work, and has worked his way into RSL's starting XI. You know what's giving me nightmares? Plata coming down Ryan Richter's wing...Richter has been turned inside out by fancy footwork more than once this season...sigh.
RSL are fresh off their 3-0 win over the Carolina Railhawks in US Open Cup play; and as this is the furthest they've ever made it in the competition they will be coming to town with momentum having also convincingly won their last league game (2-0 over Seattle), and oh did I mention the six game winning streak? Great stuff - best team in the league, on a winning streak, with a former Red on their roster - do I have any other good news you ask?
Just this - RSL has never won at BMO - ever. I'm serious; in fact they've only ever scored one goal and that wasn't even in league play (it was in the CCL in 2010). It seems crazy, but it's a small reminder that once upon a time BMO Field was not an easy place from which to take points if you were the visitor.
Of course RSL didn't play at BMO last season (thank goodness) but streaks like that aren't easy to break and a focussed TFC that is on, well it's not a winning streak but a positive streak (yes, I'm reaching, sue me), can quite possibly withstand the well-oiled machine that is Real Salt Lake.