Pretty much everyone outside of the first team squad, whether fans, bloggers, or even the official team website is looking ahead to the game that actually means something to Toronto FC, Tuesday's CCL tie against FC Dallas. Not Aron Winter though, he is sticking to his guns about only looking at the next game, thinking about Dallas only after Saturday's Philadelphia Union game is over, and not going out of his way to rest players. Meanwhile, also on Toronto FC TV, Milos Kocic, Ryan Johnson and Eric Avila are also coming up with ways to make this game matter, whether it's playing for pride or to impress the coaches with next season in mind.
I imagine that's just footballer cliche talk, they can't come out and admit that it's all about Tuesday's game, but whereas I've often called for the B team to be played before important games, I actually hope they are taking this game seriously, and that the first team does get a full game in, simply because that is the best way to prepare for Tuesday's game, and yes, it is all about Tuesday. Aside from Julian de Guzman who played 2 full games for Canada, and Terry Dunfield who almost did, the rest of the squad has had the week off and shaking off rust should be more of a concern than resting up. A competitive game against a tough Philadelphia team loooking to win to nail down one of the three automatic Eastern conference playoff spots should be a perfect warmup.
As for reasons why this game should matter on it's own, well there's revenge for the home game against Philadelphia, a 6-2 shitshow of a game that is still the lowest of all the low points of this season, and three points would also guarantee that TFC don't finish last overall, and would all but ensure that at least we'll finish above Vancouver. That's about it really, aside from all that pride and playing for a job stuff that Johnson and Avila talked about, and any athlete's inherent desire to win.
In a season that has been more or less non stop 2 game weeks since May, TFC seem to do better when they get an extended break and a chance to work on things in practice. A rare week off in early August saw the introduction of the Frings as spare Centre Back experiment and an impressive 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake, and the first game out of the September international break was the very satisfying 4-2 win in Columbus. I'll take that as a positive precedent and ignore the fact that that particular win was followed by the 4-0 hammering in Mexico City.
I doubt we'll see any tactical innovations here or on Tuesday, but I'd like to see the continuation of the 3-4-3/5-4-1 experiment. Richard Eckersley's hamstring strain from before the international break will likely keep him out of both games, and that should mean that Matt Stinson will play the Right back role. He's done it well before, but with fellow youngster Ashtone Morgan at Left Back and the always potentially calamitous pairing of Andy Iro and Ty Harden likely together again at Centre Back, Frings experience, organisation and calming presence will be very much needed. I think that's the best way to get a result in Dallas, so let's use this game to practice and fine tune that.
Behind that defence, Milos Kocic has played every CCL game so far, but will he be replaced by Stefan Frei? Should he be is another question entirely. I think Frei has taken a bit of a step back this year whether due to injuries or more likely due to playing behind a terrible defence for most of the year, but even though the team often plays better in front of Kocic, I'm not ready to go with him as the first choice keeper, and for these games, it really should be the first choice playing, so go with Frei.
In midfield we have the one player from the first choice team for Tuesday who I'd consider resting in Julian de Guzman, but I doubt that Winter will rest him, hopefully at least if the substitutions remain under his control, Winter will sub him out early. Eric Avila would normally also get the start in the Attacking midfield position, though given he can't play on Tuesday, a case could be made to go with whoever his replacement is, probably either Peri Marosevic or Ryan Johnson.
Up front, Danny Koevermans is the obvious first choice and will get the start, hopefully the break will have done him good and enable him to finally reach full fitness, as he seems to have been struggling towards that ever since he got here. Joao Plata should also return at Left Wing, he should be recovered from his injury by now and probably needs the game time more than anyone. His skill could prove crucial on Tuesday, so again, let him use this game to get his feet back under him and make sure he's firing on all cylinders. On the right, I'd usually say Nick Soolsma, but again with the Dallas game in mind, where we absolutely have to score at least once, I'd choose Peri Marosevic. He's more inconsistent, but has shown an ability to pop up with goals here and there, which could prove crucial, and should be fired up to play against his former team.
So this would be my first choice team to take on Dallas, thus that's what I'd like to see against Philadelphia, let them get game time together in a tough game, and hopefully Winter can make judicious use of his subs to rest whoever may need it later in the game.
I'm not really expecting great things from this game, Philadelphia are a tgood team, coming off a very impressive 2-0 win in Seattle, and with a chance to clinch a playoff place in just their 2nd year of existence, and they're not the sort of team I can see having a TFC 2009-esque choke when presented with that chance. Defensively they've been solid even without first choice goalie Faryd Mondragon, so chances are likely to be hard to come by. At the other end, after a slow start to the season, Sebastian Le Toux is once again looking very dangerous. TFC are going to to have to play a tough well organised defensive game and hope to bury one of the few chances they get, kind of like what Puerto Rico came within a Lars Hirschfeld save of pulling off perfectly against Canada, and almost exactly like what they'll need to do against Dallas on Tuesday.
I don't think they'll succeed on Saturday, I'll guess at a 1-0 defeat, but hopefully the practice will come in handy and pay off on Tuesday, not that I'm looking ahead to that, oh no.