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Toronto FC vs Real Salt Lake: Toughest Test Yet?

On the road again...much like the next two years Toronto is spending the majority of the first two months of the season on the road with the next two weeks bringing difficult opponents - not just this year but historically as well. Up first, those Rasta loving Mormons from Spain - RSL.

Hold up there Oso, you still have to get through me - the Beckerman!
Hold up there Oso, you still have to get through me - the Beckerman!

2-0. Toronto FC is 2-0. I'm going to let you enjoy that for a moment as well, it has never happened before! Let us revel in this unheard of bounty of points and goals. You are allowed to smile and feel a tiny bit of smug satisfaction at how this season has begun for our Reds. OK, moment's over! Back to Reality...

This Saturday TFC face perhaps their sternest test in RSL - a team so completely the opposite of Toronto FC that it's somewhat surprising that they play in the same league. Not only does Real Salt Lake make the playoffs almost ever single year - we're not jealous, oh no, not us - but they do it with pretty much the same guys year in, year out. So what we're saying is a team that has a consistent core that plays together year after year makes the playoffs...hmm, that is interesting - I wonder if other teams are aware of this?

In years past (ie every year of their existence) a trip out west (or almost anywhere in MLS) would be an automatic loss in the mind of many a TFC supporter; present company included. A trip to Rio Tinto has rarely worked out well for TFC with the Reds only recording a single win (and 5 losses!) in their history. Some of that coming during the (once record) 34 game unbeaten home streak that RSL managed through the 2010 & 2011 seasons. Exciting stuff - really looking forward to seeing TFC play there...

Except that I am - and you should be too! If only to watch the unstoppable force that is Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe go up against those immoveable objects, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando. Science! This will not be an easy game for Toronto but it should be a bit more of a balanced contest than we might have anticipated.

RSL is currently nursing some injuries (check out James' stellar KYE), the most significant on that list is former Red Joao Plata who's off to a great start this season and of course we know how former TFC players love to rise to the occasion against their old club - cue a giant sigh of relief. But that doesn't mean a walk in the park - there's that cohesion and familiarity that RSL possess that makes them dangerous even when they lose key players. And to balance the loss of Plata and other key RSL members Toronto will have to deal with the suspension of that fun loving, peaceful playmaker Jackson for his elbow to Davy Arnaud last weekend.

With Jackson out it is likely that DeRo will start in his place and Alvaro Rey will again patrol the right side. There is still speculation that Issey Nakajima-Farran is all but signed and could feature this weekend in Sandy, Utah. That would be a welcome bit of depth for Ryan Nelsen on the wing; not just with the lack of Jackson for this one game, but also going forward in the season.

As I said, the key match-up will be Bradley vs Beckerman and Defoe (and Gilberto) vs Rimando. The good news is that RSL have been vulnerable at the back so far this season and have the GD to prove it having let in four goals through three games - not exactly stellar numbers for one of the top keepers to start the season. Although to be fair they did play two of those games on the road. *RSL fun fact: current RSL head coach Jeff Cassar was the keeper of the Miami Fusion when Rimando was drafted in 2000 - Rimando quickly took the starting role from Cassar and helped lead the Fusion to the Supporter's Shield the next season.

All eyes should be glued to the midfield and on Defoe for most of this game as they've been the most obviously exciting (and productive) part of TFC's game thus far this season - as well they should be; you don't lay out the big bucks for boring! And of course they've delivered so why wouldn't you want to watch and see what happens next?

However, you'd be remiss to ignore the defence; specifically Steven Caldwell and Doneil Henry. While not a knock on Mark Bloom or Justin Morrow (who was excellent last week); it is Caldwell and Henry that will be the determining factor in this one as they've still the (not suspended) Alvaro Saborio and Olmes Garcia to contend with. Not exactly lightweights or anyone to be shrugged off. No, this game will hinge more on what the backline keeps out than what the forwards put in.

Expect a more controlled game as RSL are the kings of possession and will do everything they can to disrupt the speed and aggressive attack of TFC. Toronto cannot waste their chances as they did on Saturday as they will not have as many and certainly not the gifts that the wretched pitch at BMO seemed to give. I'm predicting a 1-1 draw in this one but think even that may be a stretch - my optimism is not yet at fever pitch so I won't be predicting wins until they're back at BMO. But hey, I thought they'd get slaughtered in Seattle so take that as you will. Come on you Reds!