Waking The Red: Mastroeni was appointed rather late. Was that just a 'last resort, we can't get anyone else' appointment? Do the fans like him? What's new since he took over?
Burgundy Wave: It wasn't a panic hire at all, and if you were listening to the national media losing their minds over the Rapids 'not having a coach', you missed the part where he had been the team's interim coach for nearly two months before it was made official. They did do a bit of a search for other candidates after making Pablo the interim man shortly after the draft, but it was a big old open secret that it was going to be him for a long time. Really, the only thing that changed was his title from interim to official head coach.
That out of the way, he's had some of the usual foibles that you'd expect from a first-time head coach, but he's shown he knows what he's doing. The biggest change from Oscar Pareja -- the tactics themselves have been largely the same as last year, and that's been by design -- has been with the roster management. He's shown a willingness to rotate his line-up that you don't often see from any coach, and he's been very good at making adjustments and substitutions so far. Four games isn't really the best way to judge a new coach, but early returns have been good from Pablo, and certainly better than the putrid first season that Pareja brought us. (That is, he hasn't lost us any games on his own with head-scratching tactics yet.)
WTR: What's with all the penalties? More seriously, aside from that and then two admittedly spectacular but very opportunistic and probably not repeatable goals from Mari last week, the Rapids still haven't scored this season. Is that a worry? Where should the goals be coming from?
BW: There's not a whole lot of worries about that, honestly. The offense has looked well-oiled at times, and the penalties have, by and large, come from fantastic build-ups that the other team has finished by fouling someone. Had Donovan Ricketts not Mortal Kombat'd Deshorn Brown, the ball was in the net. Shane O'Neill had an open chance on goal ahead of him when he was chopped down against Sporting Kansas City, etc.
The fact that the Rapids haven't scored from the run of play other than the two Jose Mari wonderstrikes (and, technically, one of the penalties which was blocked before getting knocked in on the rebound) has been due to some mediocre finishing and the fact that Deshorn Brown and Gabriel Torres haven't yet been in the best form this season. Those are the two players expected to score the most goals for the Rapids.
WTR: Toronto could have had both Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown. After very good rookie campaigns, what are the expectations for those two this season, and how are they looking so far?
BW: Both are picking back up right where they left off last year, which is better news for Powers than Brown. Powers has had his usual fantastic passing and great vision in the final third as last year, and created one of the penalties that the Rapids scored against Portland. Brown still has the erratic first touch and finishing that we saw last year, but is still creating a batch of chances for himself with his speed and strength every game. Even with that erraticness last year, he did score 10 and add four assists, so he'll start banging in a few as the year goes along.
Lineup Prediction: Making a prediction for the line-up is a bit difficult, actually. Pablo surprised everyone by trotting out a diamond 4-4-2 last game, and as I said above, he loves to change around his roster every game a bit. Assuming he goes back to his usual 4-2-3-1 for this one, I assume we'll see something like this:
Clint Irwin; Thomas Piermayr, Shane O'Neill, Drew Moor, Marc Burch; Jose Mari, Nathan Sturgis; Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers, Vicente Sanchez; Edson Buddle.
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Burgundy Wave: From what I've heard from national media folks, TFC is in quite a bit of injury trouble, with all sorts of players getting thrown out as 'potentially questionable', including Defoe and Bradley. Since you probably know better than the national guys, can we get a rundown of which players you think will play and not play Saturday?
Waking The Red: You vastly overestimate my 'in the know'-ness, stupid job stopping me from doing this right. I'm basically going by what the beat reporters put out on twitter, which is the same info as the national writers are probably going by. TFC seem to be very sneaky and vague with their injury updates so far this season, seemingly trying to give out as little actual info as they can get away with, I'm half expecting 'upper body injury' and 'lower body injury' to start making appearances. All that is to say, I haven't a bloody clue, but if I was to guess, I'd guess Bradley will be fine to go, dude seems like a machine. Ryan Nelsen was talking about fatigue related stuff after the US midweek game (he wasn't a fan of that game at all) so I think Bradley just needs a day or two of rest and he'll be fine. Defoe obviously missed the last game so did have a genuine injury, if forced to guess I'd say he'd be on the bench at best.
Dwayne De Rosario left the last game injured, and trying to read between the lines from press coverage I'd say he, Doneil Henry and Jonathan Osorio will probably be out. Others were left out of training earlier as well so this could get interesting. TFC did well without several regulars, but having to go 90 minutes without Bradley would be a whole other question to ask of them.
BW: I figured that Jermain Defoe would score some goals and Michael Bradley would boss the midfield, but how has the TFC defense been this year?
WTR: It's been very good so far, for a few reasons. First up is the tactics TFC have used so far, they've been very solid and playing a counter attacking game so they're very rarely undermanned at the back. Then you have Michael Bradley swallowing up anything that comes through the middle, it's remarkable how good he looks out there. That's forced teams to try and bypass him, which plays right into the defences hands. They upgraded at left back by bringing in Justin Morrow from San Jose who's looked very good at both ends of the pitch, and Mark Bloom who broke into the first team last year at right back has also excelled. There's been plenty of crosses coming into the middle, but both full backs have stopped anything really dangerous happening from out wide.
All those things mean that the centre backs have rarely had to deal with players coming at them and again, that plays right into their hands as the first choice pairing, Steven Caldwell and Doneil Henry are both big physical imposing defenders, especially Henry who put on a lot of muscle to his tall frame and looks set for a breakout year in this team which, so far at least, appears perfectly set up to allow him to shine. Balls played over Bradley, they'll win most of those headers, crosses flung in the box, they'll win most of those headers. Even when they missed the last game, their replacements Bradley Orr a converted right back and rookie Nick Hagglund making his first pro start looked very comfortable, mainly due to the team play that neutralised Federico Higuain and just let the Crew go wide and throw crosses in.
And oh yeah, if the defence fails, then there's Brazil's world cup goalie behind them, which is nice.
BW: Before the season, there were predictions all over the map for this TFC team. Now that there are actually games in the books, where do the expectations stand among the fans?
WTR: I've used the analogy a few times of TFC fans being like a kid in a candy store with a nut allergy. It all looks great but history tells us that if we get too enthusiastic, it's only going to lead to pain and suffering. So there was definitely trepidation to be had. So far, TFC have generally proven to full of nut free goodness in many ways. Defoe started like a house on fire and Michael Bradley has been magnificent, most TFC fans knew his history but hadn't seen much of his play so there were sceptics, but he's blown away expectations so far. Doneil Henry's centre back spot was one of the few that looked to be unupgraded, but he's looked a much improved player so far. Depth beyond the first team was a concern, but last week, missing Defoe, Jonathan Osorio and both centre backs, they went into Columbus and got a win, so those fears are also soothed somewhat as well.
There are still concerns out there, TFC are being massively outpossessed in every game so far and I can't see the results continuing at the current pace if that keeps up, different teams or game situations will require different tactics (it was pretty much suicide against Real Salt Lake for example) so it'd be good to see that Ryan Nelsen has more tricks up his sleeve when needed. . Right now though expectations are pretty high, I genuinely think it'd be a surprise if TFC disappoint us all once again.
Lineup and formation prediction
Formation will be 4-4-2, with 2 central midfielders, nominally defensive but getting forward when necessary, especially if Bradley is playing and 2 wingers. I'll guess at the following, going from right to left: Julio Cesar; Mark Bloom, Steven Caldwell, Nick Hagglund, Justin Morrow; Alvaro Rey, Michael Bradley, Kyle Bekker, Jackson; Gilberto, Andrew Wiedeman.
Thanks Chris, best of luck to the Rapids for the rest of the season.