3 games until the World Cup break, 2 (possible) games until the Trillium Cup is decided and 1 game until the Voyageurs Cup is decided - that's a whole lot of Cups to contend with in a short while! But do cups (other than WC!), matter? Should Toronto be shaking all of that off and just looking at their form in the league? Because heading into the World Cup break they're not exactly lighting it up - but are they doing that badly?
If you brush aside the fairly pedestrian play and the not exactly spectacular (although not horrifying) results and just focus on where Toronto is in terms of the season, they've still somehow shockingly only played 9 games....that's right 9 games. Or barely a quarter of the season; whereas the vast majority of teams have played more than a third of their season - thanks MLS scheduling gods! This includes TFC's opponents this week, the Columbus Crew. And yet with 12 games played the Crew have only 3 more points to show for those 3 games in hand - currently those 3 extra points have Columbus in a playoff spot - in other words the season is still wide open for Toronto and this weekend's game could be a nice stepping stone. Just look up the table and see how eminently reachable those spots above the red line are for Toronto - I know it's difficult but the time for full scale panic is not yet upon us.
Oddly optimistic words you say? With the Crew coming to town? I know, I know - that does seem an oddly positive start to this piece, doesn't it? Especially considering it's Columbus one of the (many) teams that Toronto FC have a very difficult time beating - until recently that is. In fact Toronto have won 2 of the last 3 matches between the two teams, including that most improbable win last month in Columbus - heady stuff I know! And before that nothing else happened for 7 years....
But what about the game on Wednesday you say? They should have easily won you say? Having had some time to reflect on Wednesday's showing I'm less upset with the result as I was while chewing it over post-match on the bus on the way home. I still question the timing of Ryan Nelsen's subs - once again too late in the game imo - but given the next three games, well I think I see what he was doing. Am I happy with the result? Of course not - you never want to see your team not win. Nor do I think that our Reds played an outstanding game - I was there and I have eyes - however, in trying to not fall into the pit of doom and gloom I can see past the result; or I can at least try. You might have to squint but just give it a whirl.
A quick glance at the lineup from Wednesday night's game - as well as Nelsen's comments post-game - show a number of starters were rested in preparation for the game against the Crew. While this didn't sit well with a fair number of fans (hell I was yelling for Nelsen to bring on Defoe), it does leave the team in the best possible position to get a positive result in this game given player absences and injuries. Nelsen is gambling that come Wednesday's away leg of the Voyageurs Cup that Montreal will be exhausted from playing their first team on minimal rest over a number of matches (because what else can Frank Klopas do if he wants to keep his job?) and that his players will be better rested. Plus some players that are out may be able to play depending on fitness. Of course this is all just pie in the sky; but who doesn't like pie?
On to the game! The biggest item of note for the match against the Crew is the (very welcome) absence of Frederico Higuain who is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Huzzah! Seriously, this is the best news ever. Higuain has time and again been a thorn in TFC's side and is playing exceptionally well this season, even if his team is struggling. Also, Dominic (insert latest stupid hairstyle here) Oduro is still struggling to find his form - maybe he & Gilberto should form a support group - and we won't have to endure the antics of Crew defender Giancarlo Gonzalez.
That doesn't mean that they are suddenly pushovers - they've struggled this season after a bright start but the Crew still have a solid team and the likes of Will (von) Trapp and Jairo Arrieta to throw at TFC so don't count your Trilliums before they're presented - or something like that.
Toronto faces its own challenges even after Nelsen rested players on Wednesday. We will definitely see Jermain Defoe starting and hopefully he is still all fired up about Roy leaving him off the World Cup squad. Bradley Orr and Nick Hagglund (the duo that handily dealt with the Crew the last time) will likely be reunited at the back with Mark Bloom and Justin Morrow again on the outside. But that midfield again - it's the current conundrum with Michael Bradley away with the US team and Jonathan Osorio and Jackson still out injured. Collen Warner (who did quite well against New York) should start with either Kyle Bekker or Jeremy Hall beside him and then Alvaro Rey and probably Dan Lovitz. Lovitz did well overall (although a drop off in form in the second half was noticeable) against Montreal and it is very unlikely that DeRo has enough gas in the tank to go again so soon after playing the full 90 on Wednesday.
Other than that the question is will Luke Moore (assuming he's recovered from his groin strain) start over Gilberto? And should he? Yes, Luke Moore has scored two goals and well, Ol' Gil is still looking for his first. And having a bigger target man for Defoe to play off might not be a bad idea and yet I think that Nelsen will still put Gilberto out over Moore to start the game. But hopefully he will be quick on the subs (as he was in the New York) game if Gil is slacking on the other side of his game. But to play that fast counterattack as well as keep showing confidence in Gilberto I think Moore will remain an impact sub for the second half.
As I've said before, this is a winnable game for TFC. It doesn't matter that it's a cup game (of sorts), though any kind of positive, swagger boosting moment is a good thing for our Reds. No, games like this are a chance for Toronto to show that it's more than just Bradley in the midfield - they've done it before, they have to show that wasn't a fluke and hey this weekend seems like a good place to start.