Saturday marks the final day of the Walt Disney Pro Soccer Classic and once again Toronto FC will be coming home without the highly coveted trophy...
Toronto have one game left to decide if they finish the event in 7th or 8th place. As the bottom team from their group with just 2 points in 3 matches they meet the bottom team from the other group. That team happens to be Fluminense FC from Brazil who finished bottom of their group with 0 points, 0 goals for, and 5 goals against. To be fair to the Brazilian squad they are a U23 team and are mainly here for the experience.
TFC head into this game coming off of what was easily their best game of the preseason in the 0-0 draw against the Philadelphia Union. With a little more cutting edge in the final third they could have won that game comfortably but more importantly they showed real signs of improving as a unit.
The standout player against the Union was no surprise as Michael Bradley seemed to really assert himself for the first time in the preseason. Any pass that was played near him by the Union led to a turnover and he set up the majority of TFC's chances including getting himself into shooting positions a number of times. It was just the sort of performance you would expect from Bradley and it lifted those around him. Another notable improvement was in the play of Jonathan Osorio who linked up well with Bradley and started to look like he might just thrive in a slightly deeper role than what he played last season.
The game was not without its issues though as the team is continuing to improve and still has some ways to go to be ready for the opener against the Seattle Sounders. The lack of healthy options at right back is an issue right now and Hagglund is having a rough time playing out of position this early in his MLS career. Getting Bradley Orr and Mark Bloom back would fix the issue but with the rest of the defence looking stable against the Union the inconsistent play on the right stood out.
Getting Jackson on the same page as everyone else also seems to be taking some time. Part of his struggles were due to that fact that his teammates seemed to think he was The Flash and could catch up to the ball no matter how far ahead of him the pass was and part of it was him just looking uncomfortable on the ball when taking on defenders. He has shown an ability to win freekicks though which is a useful skill to have.
Then there is Dwayne DeRosario who continues to look off the pace. His age may have slowed him down or he may just need more time to get ready for the season but based on his play in preseason so far it would not be a surprise to see him be the one dropped to the bench when Gilberto is healthy and Defoe arrives.
Against Fluminense it will be interesting to see what kind of lineup Ryan Nelsen decides to go with. He has gone with close to his best available lineup twice this preseason. If he continues that every other game pattern of starting the "A Team" then this game would be one where he starts more of the bench players like he did against Orlando City SC.
It is the final game scheduled for TFC during the preseason though so it is quite possible that Nelsen will want to get some of his key players more minutes to continue to improve their fitness and their sharpness. A player like Bradley might get the night off as he never really had an offseason but hopefully some of the others who are still showing rust will at least get a run out in this one.
Once again the result will not matter but it will be important to see the team build on their performance in that last game. At this stage of preseason having positive outings is important even if the team does not turn them into wins. Getting some goals would be a nice little confidence boost as well but with Gilberto unlikely to play and Defoe not arriving until after March 5th the talent up front is limited.
For several players this game could be their final chance to impress and potentially earn a contract. Dan Lovitz and Kene Eze have both gotten some playing time this preseason and have managed to stick around this long but both could probably use a good game on Saturday to try to stake a claim to one of the final spots on the roster.
We have seen plenty of Manny Aparicio and he has impressed and should be in line to join Wilmington but we have yet to see the other potential loan-sharks. It is unclear when Jordan Hamilton will be back from injury and the chances of Quillan Roberts getting minutes ahead of Julio Cesar and Joe Bendik seem quite slim so we might just have to wait until the USL Pro to see either of them in action.
On the whole this is a game that Toronto FC can certainly win if they go with a decent lineup. It would be nice to see them end the event with a bit of a positive note on the results sheet but the most important thing is that they turn in a second straight positive performance. If they can do that they can return to Toronto happy and get ready for that game against Seattle.