Ah, the Concacaf Champions league, the chance to play against unfamiliar opposition and terrible referees, and test yourself against some of the best clubs from exotic countries you don't usually come up against, such as, erm, FC Dallas. Toronto FC have of course already played twice against Dallas this season, losing both games 1-0. The first from a dodgy penalty that led to Bob de Klerk get himself sent off, and the second on a goal by Brek Shea that was as ridiculously good as his hair is ridiculously bad. After the hype of Dallas being the first MLS team to get a win in Mexico, can they now pull off the slightly less impressive feat of being the first MLS team to win a CCL game in Canada? Or can TFC get a win and give themselves a great chance of qualifying from the group? This is a top of the table clash and thus, what tradition and superstition continues to dictate I call, THE MOST IMPORTANT GAME OF THE SEASON!
It will be a weakened team that Dallas are bringing with them. Centre Back George John is off to plug one of the 4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire's defence, leaving a big one behind in Dallas. Zach Lloyd will also be missing as well, and of course Maicon Santos who's having a good productive start to his Dallas career can't play either. Over at Big D Soccer, they're debating whether to put out a weakened team to rotate and rest players for more important league games as they try to maintain their top 3 place and avoid the wild card round of the playoffs. Let's hope Schellas Hyndman decides that's the way to go, but really, even if he does, Dallas are a very good team who should probably beat TFC even with a few reserve team players out there. Beating Pumas UNAM in Mexico means they can really take the group by the scruff of it's neck as a win here would give them 6 points before they've even played a home game. With that in mind, they may decide to go for it now with the enforced break for World Cup Qualifiers coming up, to give them the chance to rest players later before the playoff start up.
Firmly out of the playoff picture, TFC have no such worries about juggling committments, so what kind of side will we see from them? Eric Avila definitely won't be back, but Danny Koevermans might be, and hopefully, injuries permitting, Aron Winter puts the strongest possible side out there.
Stefan Frei will be back if he's fit, but Milos Kocic has proven a very able replacement in recent games, with some good shot stopping combined with what I think is a better command of his area than Frei has shown so far this year, so I won't be as concerned as I might have been if he gets the start again.
In defence, it seems like Winter is now stuck on the three at the back plan with Torsten Frings in the middle and Richard Eckersley on the right both being fairly uncontroversial choices there, even if their roles do limit their usually excellent contributions in other areas. Andy Iro had probably one of his better games against Chicago, but still doesn't look entirely comfortable out there, and with Dasan Robinson making the subs bench for the first time on Sunday, he may be ready to start, and if so he may well be given a chance here. Doneil Henry should also be in with a chance, and playing alongside Frings should really give him the chance to show his potential off more so than in other games so far where Ty Harden or Iro have been his defensive partner. Having said all that, we will more than likely see Iro continue again at the left side of the three man central defence.
In midfield Julian de Guzman has had a bit of a renaissance recently and looked like a genuine goalscoring threat so he'll definitely continue, and I think Peri Marosevic will probably get another chance, with Matt Stinson and Danleigh Borman continuing in the wing back roles. They've both played well in that role over the last three games, but their crossing still leaves a lot to be desired, which is also true of our wingers recently, which with a lethal finisher like Danny Koevermans waiting in the middle is a real waste.
Hopefully Koevermans is fit and ready to go, and if so, then I'd move Ryan Johnson out to Left Wing, partly to try and solve that issue of not enough quality crosses. Plata has always been a bit inconsistent and a bit ball hoggy, often trying to cut inside to create a chance for himself (with sporadic success admittedly) rather than trying to beat his winger and put a cross in, but it seems the last couple of games those tendencies were massively increased, so I'd put him on the bench, ready to provide something different in the second half if needed. On the Right Wing, I'd go back to Nick Soolsma. I'm really not sure why he's been so firmly dropped from the first team these last few games, but I'd say that that has something to do with the drop in quality of crosses we've seen recently as well so hopefully he'll be back in the squad.
That's my rough guess but really that's all it is, injuries, a potential switch back to 4-3-3 and the vagaries of who is and isn't currently on the Maicon Santos memorial naughty step will all play their part in deciding the lineup, so really your guess is as good as mine
The other story of note will be the crowd, as in what size it will be. The Real Esteli game was a real disappointment, but MLSE more or less held the line with ticket prices so I'd be surprised if we see much more than the 10,000 and change that came for that game. Attendances have been lower than normal throughout the MLS clubs in the CCL, which is a real shame as I thoroughly enjoy this competition and it really puzzles me why other people don't. Even though Dallas is an unglamorous team we already play against twice a year, I don't know, it just feels different, more important. Hopefully Aron Winter feels the same way and plays the best team he can, a result here is really necessary, it'd keep interest in the season as a whole going, and be a massive step towards eventual qualification