Waking The Red: Things seem to be going well under Oscar Pareja, how important has he been to the hot start? Can Dallas keep this form up?
Big D Soccer: Considering the hot start last season as well, I can't necessarily attribute all of the early success to Oscar Pareja. This is a strong, well built team, and everyone is gelling together at the right time. What Pareja does impact, however, is the long term campaign. Pareja is thinking about every game stretching through the year and is rotating and resting players. This was seen against Houston when we were all surprised not to see Blas Perez starting. Again last week, Perez was out of the 18. We heard from OP after the match that Blas had a bit of a hamstring strain, so he was rested to be sure it didn't cause him to miss more games. In years past, the coach was so reliant on the starting eleven that players sometimes played through minor injury.
WTR: Mauro Diaz is the talk of the league. Just how good is he and what particularly do TFC have to look out for from him?
BDS: Mauro seems to be the real deal. He has quickly acclimated to the team to become a vital engine for the offense. His creativity and his touch will keep Toronto on their toes. The hard part for Mauro has been mitigating all of the fouls being tossed his way. I think he is now first or second in the league for fouls suffered in 2014 along with Darlington Nagbe.
If Michael Bradley is out for this weekend, TFC should expect a fierce midfield battle. I know that Bradley has the skill set to neutralize Diaz, but I'm doubtful his backup has the same ability.
BDS: Texeira has been a one-for-one replacement for Perez the past two games. He was off to a slow start against Houston. He wasn't able to make a major impact by scoring, but the tactics he used off the ball were helpful to the Dallas offense.
Last weekend against Seattle, David scored his first MLS goal. He is still new to the league, and we've seen that it takes time for South Americans to adjust. However word from Pareja and Texeira's on field work has shown that he is a quick learner. We in North Texas are really looking forward to him making some major contributions and pushing Perez for the club golden boot this season.
WTR: Injury/suspensions and lineup prediction.
BDS: George John and Andres Escobar both recovering from injury. We hope to see John in training during the next couple of weeks. However, Escobar has been having back problems.
Lineup is difficult to predict so early in the season with a new coach. We haven't learned his tendencies yet. But this is what I would put out on game day and think that Pareja might use a similar roster.
Seitz, Hernandez, Hedges, Keel, Loyd, Thomas, Moffat, Castillo, Diaz, Watson, Perez
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BDS: If Bradley and/or Defoe are unavailable for a significant stretch, how much trouble is Toronto in? What does the depth look like beneath the DPs?
WTR: So far, Toronto have had two very injury hit games. The first saw them take on Columbus without Defoe, and also midfielder Jonathan Osorio and first choice central defence partnership Steven Caldwell and Doneil Henry and they surprised everyone by coming away with a deserved 2-0 win that suggested the depth wouldn't be as much of a problem as everyone thought it might be. Last week, though we got Caldwell back, Michael Bradley and Alvaro Rey were added to the list and the team struggled to a 1-0 defeat at home to Colorado. Whether that means Bradley is THE crucial player or was just a case of the balance being tipped to too many injuries to cover for is up for debate, but there's no question they miss both of those big players.
The defence looks fairly solid, even when the depth was called upon, probably down to tactics as much as anything as TFC generally play quite conservative, and favour maintaining shape and position over keeping possession. In midfield though, there's a definite drop off as was seen last week. Kyle Bekker had an ok game, good defensively and tidy with possession, but Jeremy Hall? Well he's Jeremy Hall and the two of them together just don't have the mental agility and quickness that Bradley has to make things happen. The Rapids very comfortably defended and TFC were forced into playing the ball out to the wings and throwing crosses in, all very 2013. Up front, well none of the strikers other than Defoe have scored yet so that should tell you something. Dwayne de Rosario has looked like a shell of his former self so far, he'll miss this game with an injury so my hope is he's been struggling with that, rather than merely getting old. The other DP striker, Brazilian Gilberto has show some promise and seems to enjoy coming back to find the ball and link with the midfield, but hasn't looked like much of a goal threat so far and doesn't really seem suited to being the main man up front. Overall, the depth isn't as bad as some fans would have thought, but it's very much a concern.
BDS: Ryan Nelsen's appointment came as a bit of a shock since he was still actively playing in the Premier League at the time. How has he transitioned to the Head Coach role? Is he the right long term solution for TFC?
WTR: It was a bit of a shock as not only was he coming directly out of his plying career, but he didn't even have any coaching badges, and has a very inexperienced coaching staff to work with. Last year, there wasn't anything spectacular but he showed that he could organise a defence, taking a woeful squad to the level of competitively poor. This year there's definitely more expected given the talent, but the jury's still out on that one. So far, the formation is always a 4-4-2 with two wingers and two defensive midfielders, and it's generally a very counter attacking style they play, when TFC have possession they get it forward very quickly. It's generally worked quite well, having Bradley's vision and passing ability and Defoe's speed and intelligent runs definitely helps with that. That's obviously not going to work all the time, for example giving up a lot of possession to RSL was suicide and Colorado just sat back, denied the counter and thus TFC looked pretty toothless, though Bradley and or Defoe would have made a difference. So a plan B is needed, and so far Nelsen hasn't really shown us one, so whether he's the one that can take these quality players and do really good things with them and be that long term solution is still very much up for debate.
BDS: This is a brave new world for the Reds; what is your season long prediction for the team? Do you think Toronto can breach the playoffs and make a respectable run at MLS Cup?
WTR: There'll be some ups and downs, but they'll be good enough to keep Nelsen in a job. The pre world cup camp time will suck, but as long as there are no injuries, everything should come together well in the second half of the season. I'd guess at 3rd or 4th in the East as the squad isn't really good enough for a full season, but they should make the playoffs, and at that point anything can happen and there's certainly the talent to win any one off game if they get hot at the right time. I'll guess at a respectable season, maybe getting as far as the conference final, while mainly hoping for a good summer transfer window and off season to set us up for a serious run at silverware next year.
BDS: Injury/suspensions and lineup prediction.
WTR: Injuries: Out: Defoe, De Rosario, Henry, Rey, Hall, Dike. Questionable: Bradley.
I'll guess at the following (though really Michael Bradley's the only guess, if he's not fit replace him with Kyle Bekker), right to left in a 4-4-2. Julio Cesar; Mark Bloom, Steven Caldwell, Bradley Orr, Justin Morrow; Issey Nakajima-Farran, Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, Jackson; Gilberto, Andrew Wiedeman.
Thanks Brian. Be sure to check out Big D Soccer for the Dallas view of the game.