Time for one of our favourite fixtures - that's right our one league match against that team coached by that former TFC player that we all love - yep, it's time to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps. One of the last of Toronto's mid-week games (and double week games) of the season sees the Caps come to town with perhaps a bit of a chip on their shoulder after losing to Chivas on the weekend.
Games against the Whitecaps are usually a scrappy affair as both teams seem to get up for them - as do the fans, these are almost always great games to watch as each team seems to have extra energy and the rivalry aspect plays into goals scored and style of play. There's an added dimension this year as the Canadian team that finishes highest in MLS standings is the CCL entrant for 2015-2016 (Toronto currently has two games in hand and Montreal is in free fall).
Of course there is a bit of 'what could have been' when Vancouver comes to town as they are of course coached by former Toronto FC fan favourite Carl Robinson (we still miss you Robbo), who many feel should be coaching only in Onyx and here in TO. Also a 'what could have/might be' moment is seeing Matias Laba out on the pitch for the Whitecaps - a contentious bit of business in the off season, watching him flourish and do all the nice things we got to see him do for a few months but in a different kit is, well it's still somewhat distressing. But tonight we hope he (and Robbo) have terrible games and that our Reds keep racking up the points.
Vancouver is having a solid season and currently are only just holding down the final playoff spot in the west thanks to a rough few weeks that did include a nice win over league leaders Seattle but also had a couple of disappointing losses and draws including being unable to beat Montreal at home. Whereas TFC have only lost once in their past eight games and are riding a bit of momentum thanks to their stunning come from behind win against the Houston Dynamo last Saturday.
It's doubtful that Robinson will put out as youthful a team as he did during the Voyageurs Cup - although this game too may be looked at as an opportunity for a bit of revenge on the part of the Whitecaps. Hey, it's not our fault that they are never allowed to win the VCup! Players to watch for Vancouver (other than Laba) include horrible hair wearer Russell Teibert who didn't play on the weekend presumably to be well rested for tonight.
But really most eyes (hello TFC backline - focus!) should be on Kakuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado as they are both quick and dangerous on the attack. Manneh has shown a lot for a young player and Hurtado has been hurting teams all season. Toronto cannot allow the same type of defensive breakdowns that saw Brad Davis score twice in the space of 30 minutes.
Defensively is where Toronto may have an issue as captain Steven Caldwell is out for several weeks with a torn quad muscle suffered in Saturday's game. The big question is with two games this week who will Ryan Nelsen tap to take Caldwell's spot? It seems likely that he'll go with utility player Bradley Orr having done so more than once this season, but there is a small (really small) chance that he may give Nick Hagglund and Doneil Henry a chance to show off what could be the CB pairing of the future for TFC. Although I'm not sure that Nelsen is quite ready to take that step - but hey, this is TFC after all, anything can happen!
On the bright side (depending on how you look at things) is the likely return of Michael Bradley to the lineup. Bradley was noticeably not at 100% in his first game back a couple of weeks ago and wasn't even on the bench for Saturday. However he's been pronounced fit and available for tonight's match against Vancouver. Having his presence in the midfield - if only to counteract Laba - should be a good thing. At his best Bradley bolsters the defence but also helps create on the attacking side. Having both him and Collen Warner in the middle should be enough to support the back and the wings in snuffing out the Vancouver attack.
Obviously Jermain Defoe will start - yes I know it goes without saying - but the question is who starts with him? Do we see Luke Moore out there as the target guy again or does Nelsen go with more speed and attacking flair to harry the slightly undermanned Vancouver defence (regular leftback Jordan Harvey is suspended) and bring on Gilberto for his first start in over a month? Personally I'd like to see Ol Gil out there not just to give him more chances to score but because I think he & Defoe (the NY game notwithstanding) actually play well together and can create chances not just for themselves but for each other. Put Jonathan Osorio and Dominic Oduro out there and I think that's an XI that can take all three points against our Western cousins.
The schedule starts to even out after this week and Toronto actually has a bit of depth to their roster right now (weird isn't it?) so handling both Vancouver tonight and Houston (again) on Saturday while coming away with positive results is not only possible but probably. Hopefully tonight is another exciting match - see you at BMO! Come on you Reds!!