So, here we are, the 2013 season creaks onwards to it's merciful end, and hey at least this weekend's opponents lend the game a semblance of relevance. Yes, it's the basement battle, the relegation playoff, the toilet bowl, the Payne event, pick your derisive name, 9th vs 10th, feel the excitement.
Those standings do matter though, the 17th overall position instead of 19th. Usually it's a case of pride in a higher finish vs the reward for the lower finish of a higher draft pick, to tank or not to tank. But of course that 2014 pick will be heading west to Vancouver, so there's nothing good to come out of TFC failing more than they already have. Last week's loss to Columbus means that TFC are now 9 points behind 16th place, so bottom 3 (and a top 3 pick) it is. A win on Saturday and they'll have opened up an equally unassailable 10 point lead on DC, and then it'll just be a case of finishing ahead of Chivas. Lose and DC are within 4 and the spectre of gifting the Whitecaps a first overall pick comes very much into focus.
Is the win possible? Yes, though mainly because DC just aren't very good rather than anything positive about Toronto, I'm a lot less optimistic in that regard than I might have been a while back. Those streaks, two game winning and 3 game unbeaten are over (curiously, that change happened immediately after playing a friendly, just like in 2012), replaced with a 2 game losing streak that has exposed anew the problems in TFC's defence, and of course Matias Laba's dedo gordo is fracturado. Just when the squad seemed to be slowly developing and improving with the addition of Max Urruti, it takes a huge step back, and worryingly, one that should play right into DC's strengths.
They don't really have any good straight up forwards, Lionard Pajoy and Carlos Ruiz haven't got the job done at all when it comes to scoring, instead they'll rely on a variety of attacking midfielders/quasi forwards, chief among them regular TFC killer Dwayne de Rosario and of course Luis Silva. Before the arrival of Silva and with De Ro struggling with form and injury and Chris Pontius out, they really struggled for goals, but that's recently changed, going from absolutely horrific, 8 goals in their first 19 league games, to merely poor, 6 in their last 5 games.
Laba would have played a huge part in defending when players like De Ro and Silva dropped deeper or tried to bring the ball from midfield to attack. Hopefully Jeremy Hall and Jonathan Osorio, or whoever else might be charged with replacing the Argentinian can plug that gap effectively. If not, that will put a lot of extra pressure on the defence, and I'm really not confident that that's the type of pressure they'll be good at dealing with.
Look at goals from the Seattle and Columbus games and you'll see common elements of skilled players making runs from deep, and the defence not coping with it. Whether it's the defence freezing and not tracking runs as we saw for both of the opening goals, or backing off and giving up way too much space as we saw for Higauin's second, indecision has fatally reigned when it comes to players attacking from midfield.
There's a good chance De Rosario will be the only actual 'forward' and we all know how he likes to do his thing and roam around the pitch so that would essentially mean there'd be no obvious forward to match up against for Steven Caldwell and Doneil Henry. Their decision making on when to track De Ro's runs and when to let him go, and who should be covering who when they make runs into the box will be crucial.
It will be interesting especially to see how Doneil Henry manages it as he's been an adventure all season long, with plenty of his fouls and bookings coming as he tries to recover from poor decisions when it comes to sticking too close or not close enough to a forward. All part of the learning experience for him, but he's definitely more comfortable with an obvious and traditional centre forward to battle against.
To his left, after some improved performances, Ashtone Morgan again looked rough against Columbus, might that be an opportunity for Ryan Nelsen to give Jonas Elmer his first start to see what he can do? It is preseason 2014 after all, might as well see what some of the new players can do.
The other selection dilemna will of course be in midfield. While I'd say Hall is a fairly obvious straight replacement for Matias Laba, would Osorio continue in his central role without Laba alongside him, or might the experience of Darel Russell be preferred? If so, does that mean Alvaro Rey returns to the bench with Osorio back on the wing?
Up front we'll more than likely see Robert Earnshaw and Jeremy Brockie, in his last game before heading back to New Zealand, again, with Urruti probably coming off the bench. It was Earnshaw who scored for TFC in the previous game at RFK stadium, and given that that's his only goal in the last 4 months, we can probably put that in the same 'random event that you don't see often' pile as the own goal that turned out to be TFC's winner that day.
That game saw TFC win 2-1 after only having one shot on target, and being out-possessed 58 % to 42 and I think that's probably going to be the gameplan again in this one. Play a defensive game, keep it tight and hope that something good happens up front, or DC's defence somehow finds a way to implode. For that reason, I do expect to see the more experienced Russell out there alongside Hall, with Osorio moved back to the wing, still in the team for his goalscoring ability, by far the clubs top goalscorer since Earnshaw's hot streak ended and thus the most likely to help out with that whole hoping for something to happen thing.
If I had to guess, I'd say that TFC won't get lucky this time. Though they'll manage to keep United to one goal again, there'll be no goals out of nothing to rescue an uninspiring attack, and so it'll be 1-0 DC and they'll narrow that gap to a mere 4 points. I don't need to tell you who's going to be the one to score that goal do I?