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Toronto FC v Real Salt Lake (1-0) – Toronto’s New Formation Yields a Rare Clean Sheet and Three Points

The following appears courtesy of, and was originally posted at, the excellent Keeping A Clean Sheet, whose analysis and breakdown of MLS matches is well worth checking out via the link.


Toronto’s Strategy

     Aron Winter abandoned his Dutch roots by swapping his 4-3-3 for a 3-4-3. The formation switch to three at the back is a welcome one, since it is such a rarity in football. Winter must have thought that whether he played 3 or 4 at the back would result in a suspect back line, so he may as well play to his strengths (wing play) while entertaining the BMO Field faithful. In goal, Kocic got the start for the injured Frei, making him the 37th player Toronto has used in MLS this season. Frings started as the middle center back with Iro and Eckersley flanking him. Stinson and Borman had the rigorous task of playing wing back; a position that requires the discipline to defend the wings while also supporting the attack. DeGuzman and Avila played in the center of midfield, the two acting more as defensive players in the system rather than creative outlets.
     Toronto’s system was set up to play down the wings, especially the left side. Instead of relying on the central midfielders, Winter used the wing backs and the wingers to try and outnumber Real’s fullbacks. The left side of Plata and Borman was particularly effective. The one downside of the wing attack was the lack of service to Koevermans. The four wide players yielded only 12 crosses; instead opting to try and cut inside to get a shot off.

Real’s Strategy
     After a 3-0 thrashing of New York last weekend, it was easy for Jason Kreis to select the same starting XI. This marked the first time all season that RSL produced the same lineup consecutively. The 4-4-2 diamond system was as usual employed.
     Instinctively, Fabian Espindola was able to find space down the left channel in the first half and on the right in the second. The space vacated by the Toronto wing backs was filled by Espindola. He was the most dangerous attacking player, especially with his strike partner Saborio having a quiet night.

Toronto Starts Bright
     The Reds were able to come out of the gates quickly. This may have been due to the odd formation confusing Salt Lake. However, TFC could not capitalize on this early dominance. Their best chance came when a Plata cross dropped nicely to Borman who slipped when he reared back to strike the ball possibly slipping on confetti (seriously, there was tons of confetti inside the 18).

Espindola’s Enigmatic Half
     After dominating the first half hour but failing to claim the lead, Toronto felt lucky going into halftime level after Espindola had several chances towards the end of the half. In the 30th minute, he was teed up by Saborio eight yards from goal but struck the cross bar. A few minutes later, Espindola was through on goal after Iro misplayed a bouncing ball but the Real striker missed his chance. For Salt Lake, Wingert had to be substituted after he broke his left wrist at the end of the first half; a blow for Real’s depth.

Beckerman Comes to Life at the Hour Mark
     Around the 60th minute, Beckerman got much more involved in the run of play, which in turn awoke RSL’s attack. He was able to get on the ball and find Gil and Espindola in dangerous positions. Williams came in from his left midfield position to take up a more central position to help RSL have a numerical advantage in the middle.
     Winter replaced Andy Iro with Ty Harden in the 64th minute. The central defender immediately made two last ditch interventions to deny Saborio in the air and Johnson on the ground. The defense of Toronto was suspect all night. They looked unorganized and had to rely on poor finishing from RSL and timely last minute challenges to prevent a goal.
     The match always looked like it had a goal in it, and Toronto provided the lone strike in the 77th minute. Stinson over hit a cross from the right and Plata collected the ball on the left. The diminutive winger torched Will Johnson and was able to get a shot away on his right foot. The weak attempt only reached the far post after a clever dummy by Marosevic put off Rimnado, who had anticipated a deflection. Plata’s goal further cemented his position as Man of the Match for Toronto.
     With the lead, Toronto turned a three man defense into five. The home side dropped very deep and bunkered down to try and preserve their lead. Salt Lake was invited in to try and test the shaky Kocic. Alvarez had a left footed shot go just wide, Kocic left the goal empty on a corner after wildly coming out for the cross and Will Johnson’s excellent half volley was well saved by the keeper to seal the three points.

     Toronto will be thrilled with three points and still have a very long distance shot at reaching the playoffs. The Reds do have a very important Thursday matchup v Tauro FC in the Champions League. I do not expect Winter to play a 3-4-3 in that match but maybe he liked his experiment and will use it again. It will be crucial for them to get Johnson back from injury to replace the very average Marosevic on the right side. Also, the defensive performance must be more disciplined if they are to pick up points in the Champions League.
     Maybe Salt Lake would have been better off playing a 4-3-3 to exploit the wing backs position high up the pitch. But, Kreis stuck to his guns and was almost rewarded as Real had more than enough chances to score. Maybe BMO Field is just a cursed ground for Salt Lake; Real have never won or scored a goal in Toronto in MLS play (stat according to RSL TV broadcast). If RSL are to advance deep in the playoffs they will need a more active and involved Saborio. The striker was hardly involved in the match and at times seemed like he was not on the pitch. Also, Beckerman looked tired for the first hour of the game, probably due to him playing 90 minutes for USMNT on Wednesday. A sharper Beckerman would have gotten Gil more involved in the first half.

Thoughts on the match? The 3 man back line?
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