It's time for yet another TFC game in which the drama outside the game threatens to overwhelm before the whistle is even blown. Take your pick: you've got Toronto vs. Montreal, top of the league vs. bottom of the league, Voyageurs Cup winners vs. Voyageurs Cup losers, the almost year long winless streak at BMO and the latest bit of (unnecessary) drama - CMNT depleted team vs. not so depleted team. But even with all that drama swirling about, believe it or not there is still a game to play.
Who doesn't love the 401 Derby? OK, you may not love the name - we'll take suggestions for alternate names but I think this one's here to stay - but this is always an intense, emotional game; if only for the supporters. This is the fourth of five meetings in all competitions between the two clubs this season and the first since TFC got spanked by the Impact in the final leg of the Voyageurs Cup, so you can bet Toronto has revenge on its mind. And feel free to laugh derisively at anyone that says "it's just another game".
The Reds are coming off an OK month in which they managed to get a few points and score a couple of goals and at times, look kind of decent doing it. Steven Caldwell (now with a shiny new permanent contract) has been a difference maker at the back; Matias Laba continues to do all sorts of lovely things in the midfield and Darren O'Dea is slowly morphing into a solid choice at LB. Good stuff, right?
Well yes, that would be the good stuff. But the not so good stuff, the stuff that will cause no end of issues in the game against the Impact? Say it with me now - FINISHING. Yes, it's very important that they stop leaking goals, but all the defense in the world doesn't put balls in the back of the net. As an added blow, Robert Earnshaw is still not able to play due to a calf injury. While it's true that he's still not exactly lighting it up, he's still a viable option for goals.
Saturday's game saw the first start by Danny Koevermans in over a year and well, it showed. Koef, while eager, still has some rust and hasn't quite got his field sense back. Not to mention that he and Jeremy Brockie are not yet a comfortable duo as they weren't really able to play off one another to any great effect. Presumably that will come with time but again, Brockie is leaving in a month so the sooner that Koef and Earnshaw can work together, likely the better.
There's also the fact that the forwards still aren't receiving consistent service from the wings - although there was some signs of improvement on Saturday from O'Dea, Convey and well Ryan Richter at least tried, (btw apparently Ecks will be back on the 13th). So the goal scoring thing - you could say that's an issue.
Luckily they're going up against a team that's been bleeding goals of late - 16 in their last 8 games and giving up 4 in their recent 4-3 defeat to Colorado. The Impact are also hurting a little bit right now with their midfield potentially missing Justin Mapp and Sanna Nyassi - both players that have done damage to the Reds in the past. But when you think about the Impact, really the first player to come to mind and the one that TFC must NOT leave unmarked, at any time - this cannot be stressed enough - is Marco Di Vaio. Di Vaio has been deadly this season having already scored 10 goals - 3 of those against Toronto - awesome.
Adding to the potential woe for our Reds is the loss of a couple of players to the CMNT for Gold Cup play. While the loss of Kyle Bekker and Ashtone Morgan are negligible (sorry boys but it's true); losing Doneil Henry causes a small issue as he's been Caldwell's regular partner in the middle through the past month or so and temperamental meltdowns aside, has been improving next to the veteran defender. But the big loss is that of Jonathan Osorio in the midfield. While Osorio wasn't a standout on Saturday he's been a big part of new midfield - injecting energy, a willingness to get forward and some nice work on the ball to TFC's oft stagnant midfield.
So really the question is who steps into Osorio's role? Does Reggie Lambe get a rare start or does Darel Russell make his return from injury? What about Luis Silva you ask? You have to assume that Silva will be held in reserve as a substitution - unless of course he starts and Brockie is the sub. However, I would still like to see Brockie out there - he's been one of the most committed players on the pitch each game and inches from goal. And in a feel good story kind of way he's got his dad visiting, so you know the whole 'score one for dad' narrative is kind of fun.
Toronto is going to have to be rock solid at the back - as many goals as the Impact let in, they score just as many. But make no mistake, without a huge effort by the back four and Laba, Toronto will have little chance to exact any measure of revenge for the Voyageurs Cup loss and show that the small bit of improvement that was on display through most of June was not a mirage. Expect this to be a hotly contested match as there is little love lost between the two teams and. that's just the way it should be