It seems that everyone out there is calling this the biggest game of the year, Red Nation Online does, the Toronto Star calls it the biggest game in franchise history, so I guess it is only right that I come and say that this MIGHT be the biggest game in franchise history. I will get more in to the might later but for now there are more pressing concerns if you are a Toronto FC fan.
If you are one for believing every report that you read then the news of today will sound great to you. First off there are reports going around, in the Toronto Sun, that Joao Plata might be fit for this match which will be a boost for Toronto's attacking matches. The other big news of the day is that Pumas are once again being rumoured to be considering playing a number of their bench players this time around. Forgive me for being a bit sceptical about the second report considering the fact that it was suggested before the match down in Mexico but in the end TFC got embarrassed by what was basically a full strength side.
So for Toronto FC fans where can we find a reason for optimism coming in to such a tough match? The team are coming off an embarrassing showing against Chivas USA which will only have added to their fatigue levels through travel and many key players going the full 90. To make matters worse Toronto will be without Eric Avila who is unavailable for CCL matches as well as Torsten Frings, Terry Dunfield and Mikael Yourassowsky who are all suspended thanks to yellow cards they picked up against Tauro. That leaves a real lack of options in the middle of the park for Toronto which is a major problem since last time out against Pumas the midfield looked completely outclassed. If Plata is fit and can start tonight that will be a boost to the side but still leaves a lot of questions marks left unanswered.
We have already looked at what sort of impact the absence of Frings might have on the formation as he will not be there to drop back in to the centre of defence to help out Andy Iro and Ty Harden. Harden has looked better of late but Iro is still as bad as ever so that means with no Frings to help hide their short comings these two will be in for a major test tonight should Winter go with the 4-3-3 once again. It is hard to say what to expect from Winter in this game but I think that his track record shows that he is not likely to go with a defensive formation even if it would give the team the best chance of taking away a result from this game. Is there anyone else on the roster that could play the same free roll in the centre of the back line that Torsten Frings has been playing so well of late? Perhaps Ty Harden could be used in that roll with someone else taking up his place at centre back? No matter how I try to spin it things to do not look that positive for the defence or the midfield.
So now I get back to this business about Pumas again suggesting they will be resting some players for this match and I have to say that the optimist in me is very tempted to believe the reports this time around. First off the news came directly from their coach in a press conference and secondly there is a good reason this time around as Pumas face a massive league game on the weekend. There is an actual possibility that some players will be rested to get ready for their derby match against Club America. So for this report I am adopting a wait and see approach. I will have my fingers crossed that we see a side similar to the one that FC Dallas beat down in Mexico but hopefully TFC is still prepared for them to being out the A team once more. Pumas are currently on a bit of a roll in all competitions and I can not see them throwing that away be going with a complete B team, maybe something in between would be reasonable to expect.
So where does that leave us as TFC fans in terms of optimism? It is hard to say really until we see the lineup sheets. Toronto will have to count on home field advantage for this match as well. This time around they can not use things like altitude as an excuse if they do have a bad performance so even though the crowd will likely be less than impressive once again Toronto will need to take advantage of playing in the familiar confines of BMO field.
Now my promised return to why this might be the biggest game of the season. I am not willing to call it the biggest game of the year just yet because TFC could lose this match and still end up advancing depending on what happens between FC Dallas and Tauro down in Panama. Dallas are on poor form and a win for them is by no means guaranteed. TFC saw how tough it can be to win down there when they only snuck out a 2-1 win but with Tauro now being out of the running to advance from the group counting on them for a result would be foolish. For Toronto FC the focus has to be getting at least a point from Pumas since that would ensure that no matter what they remain in control of their own fate going in to the final round of matches. A win would be great, so would a Dallas loss so it looks like this is going to be a week filled with crossing our fingers and hoping we get all the right breaks.