Everyone still on a high from last week? Time for a bit of a comedown - wait, what's that you say? We're playing Colorado? Whee! Seriously, it's a great set up isn't it? Allegedly (I expect monsoons when the game actually starts) gorgeous weather, 9 points from four games heading into a game against an opponent that's never beaten TFC at home? I don't need drugs to enjoy this - just to enhance it (points from me if you get the ref).
This is a game that Toronto - barring Michael Bradley's status - should win. History, momentum, home field advantage, etc, so on and so forth all point towards TFC coming away with all three points. Now this being Toronto, I do my level best to not rely on this sort of thinking, usually because it results in the footy gods making cruel jokes at my expense. However, as TFC are not exactly penalty gifting machines, (yes Jose Mari I saw your pretty goals from last week - but what have you done for me lately) and Edson Buddle isn't exactly terrifying and damn it this is a different TFC; right? Right? All of those things together should equal a TFC win.
Our Reds are coming off a game that few (myself included) thought they'd get any sort of result from, let alone win. Instead a gritty, composed performance by some of the lesser lights have our Reds perched pretty close to the top of the standings. We really are just on one great big trip aren't we? Someone pass the chips...now where was I? Oh right, preview stuff - sorry.
*ahem* While the game in Columbus didn't magically erase all of the fears and concerns about depth on this team, it did at least put a hold on some of the doom and gloom. With huge performances from Bradley Orr, Nick Hagglund, Jackson and Justin Morrow - not to mention Michael Bradley and the rest of the team - it looks a little less worrisome when it comes to what Toronto is capable of. A mentally tough game from a team that a year ago would have crumbled if Frederico Higuain looked at them cross-eyed came away with a dominant win all while missing four of it's regular starters. Impressive, yes?
However even with the positive perfomance of last week, the glaring concern is the question mark about Michael Bradley's fitness - is he actually injured or is Ryan Nelsen simply practising a little gamesmanship? Pulling him early from the Columbus match wasn't surprising - after all he'd gone the full 90 in the USMT friendly on the Wednesday and the team seemed to have the game fairly well in hand. But is he really hurt?
It is the biggest depth issue that this team faces - they will be playing without him come the World Cup - so who steps into his role? Is it best to find out now and see if (gulp) Jeremy Hall and Kyle Bekker can hold down the middle? Hell no. While yes, they need to learn to adapt to life without Bradley this is not the time to mess around with a good thing. If he's fit he should play, period. If he's not; well then we should all watch the game peering through our fingers cause regardless of opponent it's likely to be scary out there without him. Please note that this isn't a knock against Jonathan Osorio, he's a different type of player and shouldn't be expected to fill Bradley's shoes.
The other injuries (confirmed or not) can be managed by existing players, in the short term at least. Scoring will become an issue in Jermain Defoe's (continued) absence if Gilberto can't open his TFC account sometime soon. Yes, Issey Nakajima-Farran scored that lovely goal last week, and yes, Alvaro Rey and any number (DeRo?) of other players are capable of scoring goals for Toronto, and a team shouldn't rely on a couple of players to score all of the goals, but since that's what they're paid for...well, you see what I'm getting at. Gilberto score a goal already! Too impatient? Perhaps, but perception of his performance and value to this team will go down if he doesn't get a goal in the next few weeks - DP strikers need to score goals - end of story.
So what of our opponents? As usual they are laden with ex-TFC players with the most notable being the trio of Marvell Wynne, Nick LaBrocca and Edson Buddle (yes, that Edson Buddle). While not the most notable threats on the Rapids, they are former Reds and therefore to be watched and marked closely - we all know what usually happens when former TFC players come to town and it's rarely a good thing for Toronto.
A little confidence building momentum is also on their side having come back to win away against Vancouver last weekend. And it would seem that they've finally figured out how to score something other than a penalty - I'm so glad that they're finding their feet just as they roll into Toronto...
Expect to see a very similar lineup to last week with the reassuring addition of captain Steven Caldwell back on the pitch. Likely partnered by Nick Hagglund the rest of the starting XI shouldn't change unless players have magically healed in the past couple of days or Nelsen really is just using the media to mess around with opposition coaches this year. Jackson and Rey should be able to do some marauding on the wings and it will be very interesting to see Gilberto match up against Wynne.
Really this feels like it will either be a grind of a game or Toronto's going to put on a show for the home fans before being away for a couple of weeks. As long as some of the injured or walking wounded (seems like half the team is carrying knocks) are mostly rested and rejuvenated then there's no reason for them to not win. Even given the strong defence of the Rapids with Wynne, Clint Irwin and Mark Burch, the rapid attack tactics that have served TFC so well this past weeks should still work here. And with Toronto's backline doing similar strong work, any offensive threats from Buddle (ha!), Deshorn Brown or Vicente Sanchez should be snuffed out fairly easily.
I'm calling this one a win folks; feel free to heap scorn upon me (but nicely, I've got thin skin) should they lose. But they won't. And yes, you can have some of what I'm smoking.