Tomorrow night Toronto FC will try to beat the defending MLS Cup Champions, to advance to the Champions League Semi Finals.That's pretty awesome.
There are several things that the Reds need to focus on and exploit in order for them to come away with a win or a very unlikely 3-3 draw or higher. Toronto has had some pretty surprising results against the MLS superpower, and after seeing last June's 2 -2 draw, it's not out of the question to ask for an upset.
The most important storyline in this game is Bruce Arena's decision to field such a strong team against Real Salt Lake over the weekend. RSL played a very hard game at the Home Depot Center and the Galaxy were gutted to lose their home opener to a Western Rival.
TFC will need to take advantage of LA's heavy legs early on (I'm looking at you Joao Plata). If TFC's top 3 Forwards, along with Richard Eckersley and Ashtone Morgan, can run at Andy Boyens, Sean Franklin, AJ DeLaGarza and co., it will make for a wide open second half. Chances are that LA is going to try and take total control on the ball, and slow the game down completely. So Winter will need to implement a team defense that puts pressure on the LA ball holders as soon as the game starts. TFC can't afford to let Beckham take his pretty time while we wait for them to mishandle the ball. If that happens, this may be the longest, and shortest 90 minutes of our lives. Below the jump, we'll look at some other major factors in TFC's second most important game ever.
Everybody's new favourite Attacking Midfielder will have a tough time trying to outdo his first performance as a Red. The guy scored on his first shot of his first start in the Champions League Quarter Finals. He still has a lot of work to do off the ball within TFC's system, but he looks to have a great vision going forward. The question now, is if Winter keeps Silva in the lineup tomorrow, or if he puts Julian de Guzman alongside Terry Dunfield? Or maybe move Dunfield up a tad higher in the middle? Personally, I'd like to see Silva stay in the lineup as our Attacking Midfeilder, and have de Guzman as our holding midfielder behind him.
If Silva has the support of de Guzman from behind, then it will give him the confidence to push up, move some more with the ball and feed either Plata or Ryan Johnson to get the offense going. He's also a Cali boy, who'll want to tear it up against his hometown team.
Julian de Guzman and Nick Soolsma
With de Guzman and Soolsma back, it poses a couple questions of how TFC will look come Wednesday. I highly doubt Ryan Johnson or Plata will be replaced by Soolsma, and it's more likely that he'll be brought on as a sub in the 70th or so. As slow as Soolsma is, his skill with the ball, and his movement within our 3-4-3/ 4-3-3 is amazing.
As for Julian, like I said earlier, I could see him replacing Dunfield in the middle of the park, sitting just ahead of Frings and just behind Silva. I'm expecting big things from JDG this season, and I believe he could be a big game changer tomorrow night. de Guzman will need to give Donovan and Beckham fits in order for TFC to be successful.
The return of both players is great news for TFC, and at times (although Terry did a great job in the middle), I felt TFC was lacking some organization in the middle of the park in the First Leg.
This has been an interesting couple days for TFC's defence situation, as Geovanny Caicedo left MLS before anyone even got to know how to pronounce his name. Today we brought in Logan Emory,24, from the Puerto Rico Islanders. Now I think I know Winter well enough to assume that Emory will not be starting tonight. But part of me is wondering if our Dutch Mastermind may just throw Emory out there given his other options (Edit: Turns out Emory's ineligible as he played in this tournament for the PR Islanders). Clearly, our left and right backs are locks, and no one has anyone doubts about Eckersley, or Morgan. But the doubt remains in both our Centre Back positions.
The pairing of Ty Harden and Miguel Aceval doesn't exactly bring a lot of peace to worried TFC fans after watching the first leg. One game is clearly not enough to judge Aceval's positioning and marking, but he has to be better in the second leg. He'll need to be able to communicate efficiently with Harden in order to try and contain Buddle, Keane and Magee. Aceval's strength is his wicked left foot, and he'll need to be smart about when he decides to use it. If Aceval's service is on, LA will have trouble dealing with great crosses coming into Koev and Johnson from both sides. I still have my doubts about their ability to completely shut down the MLS's best offense tomorrow night, but who knows.
Easily the biggest factor in tomorrow's game is the crowd in Carson, or lack there of. The Galaxy are capping tickets off at 7,500 people because the CCL game is on during a school night on campus. This will be a complete 180 in terms of intensity and atmosphere, when you compare it to last Wednesday's game. And TFC will love that the Galaxy won't have that extra boost from their supporters. The Reds will be able to play their game and not have to worry about any off field distractions.
Also for as much as the Galaxy want to tell themselves they're such a big deal within MLS, they'll have a hard time feeling like the big boys with only 7 thousand watching one of the biggest games of the season.
So we have a good understanding of what TFC needs to do in order to come away with the victory. Is it as impossible as some may think? I'm not buying that. LA is missing Omar Gonzalez, and they aren't as strong at the back as they usually are. RSL showed that the final 20 minutes will be Toronto's opportunity to pounce on a tired Galaxy squad. With de Guzman coming back, and TFC's record against the Galaxy, this optimistic young man could see the Reds come away with a 2 to 1 victory in Carson.