So here it is. While almost every other team got their 2012 season underway last week, this is the first MLS game for both Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders. Both are of course coming off Champions League action, with one team riding high from an impressive victory, the one last glorious holdout against the Mexicans, while the other is licking it's wounds after a hammering from a better team. Any MLS expert knows which team got which result right? Eh? Oh!
Now that Toronto's got the league's attention, can they keep that momentum going with a good performance, or will they suffer a letdown and let everyone go back to dismissing them, the LA games merely a blip? Getting a positive result of any kind in Seattle would be another indication that TFC are a team to be taken seriously this year, but that obviously won't be easy against one of the league's best teams, with a new point to prove in what was always going to be a big game for them anyway. Last time the Reds played at whatever Seattle call their stadium these days, it was a 3-0 and could have been worse embarassment, which put an end to the experiment of the point forward 4-3-3 featuring Maicon Santos as the AM.
We've come a long way since then, in terms of both players available, and tactical flexibility, meaning that there's plenty of options available, and selection quandaries to solve. I don't think fatigue and squad rotation will play a part in Aron Winter's decisions, it's early in the season, they've only played two games so far, don't have excessive travel based fatigue to deal with, and there's a week before the next game, so I'd expect to see the first choice team out there. There's still plenty of questions as to exactly what that first choice team would look like, I'll get into all that after the jump.
The good news, and happy contrast to years past is that almost all the questions come from very positive situations, competition for places now suddenly rampant, at least in goal and up front, if not yet in defence.
In goal, Milos Kocic's surprise start and impressive game in L.A means the old Frei v Kocic debate is very much back in full swing. At the end of last year, the general wisdom was that Kocic's presence and control of his area was better, but Frei's shot stopping abilities meant he should still be considered the number one goalie. Preseason showed that Frei has obviously been working on his weakness as he showed a much more aggressive attitude when it came to crosses and set pieces. The game at the skydome exposed that that remains very much a work in progress, with Frei misjudging the cross that led to the Galaxy's first goal, and almost being scored on directly from a corner when David Beckham tried to take advantage of his starting position a few yards off his line.
As for Kocic, he was his usual dominant self in the air, and there was certainly nothing wrong with his shot stopping either, so for now, I'd say he should be considered TFC's number 1 goalie. The whole team seemed a lot more confident and able when it came to defending the 2-1 lead than they had the week before, and I think Kocic's play is a big part of that.
In defence, well that's the one area where there really isn't much in the way of competition and positive choices. Doneil Henry and Matt Stinson are off doing their patriotic duty with Canada, Adrian Cann is getting closer to fitness and may well be ready to go next week, but I can't see him making a comeback on the plastic pitch. So Aaron Maund and new signing Logan Emory are really the only options. I can't see either of them being introduced here, which means it'll be the same players, with Torsten Frings very much still needed to help out back there.
It gets more questionable the further up the field you get , though I'm fairly certain Julian de Guzman will start. The attacking midfield spot has 3 very plausible options, Luis Silva has impressed, Ryan Johnson absolutely needs to be in the team somewhere, and AM was where he found a place against LA, and now Eric Avila is available for selection again. A case could be made for all 3 of them, but I think it'll be Luis Silva there, and that means Ryan Johnson now needs to find a place in the front 3.
Danny Koevermans hasn't really hit his stride yet this season, yet to get off the mark, and let's face it, when he's not scoring, it doesn't really look like he's doing much. He's still very much the first choice Centre Forward though, and I fully expect to see him start again. On either side of him, I'd expect Nick Soolsma and Ryan Johnson to be rewarded for their strong games against LA, which means Joao Plata relegated to a place on the bench.
Which means this as my best guess for the starting lineup.
Whoever is out there, it'll be a tough game, where even a tie would be a very good result and sign of things to come. Away games have always been a problem for TFC, and the league as a whole really, if they are to compete in the Eastern Conference, that's something they'll finally have to figure out. Wednesday was a good start and a truly impressive away performance, keeping it tight and taking chances when they came. Let's hope they can do the same again, and be the villain beating up the guys in green on St Patrick's day.