Remember Saturday afternoon? Everyone was still riding that bloody big deal off season euphoria, bolstered by a 100% record. Toronto FC were cruising, top of some MLS Power Rankings, and MLS Cup favourites according to the British bookies. Sure there were concerns about playing style, or depth, and the argos are always there to pop any feel good bubble, but whatever, just look at those stars, look at those points, look at all that winning.
Well if Saturday's game showed us there's still a long way to go even with all the bloody big DP's out on the pitch, today brought a clump of bad news that means we'll all have to confront the ugly reality of those depth concerns a lot sooner than we'd have hoped.
First up were the injury updates from training. Jermain Defoe? That hamstring injury he left the game with is apparently serious enough to keep him out. Jonathan Osorio? Probably still out with his own hamstring problems. Doneil Henry? Maybe out with a knee problem. Lovely.
Then, up stepped the MLS Disciplinary committee. Remember Steven Caldwell's tackle on Ned Grabavoy, a studs up lunge that caught Grabavoy's ankle and that he got booked for? Well, that wasn't enough for the DisCo and for the second straight week they upgraded an incident the referee saw and decided was worthy of a yellow card and slapped him with a one match ban and a fine, for 'serious foul play that endangers the safety of an opponent'. Super.
There are questions that can be raised about both of the definite absences. Should decisions made by a referee who fully witnessed the incident be reviewed like this? They aren't in other leagues, it's only off the ball stuff the ref missed that can get after the fact suspensions in the EPL at least if not elsewhere. Should Defoe's minutes have been managed better? He hadn't played much all season with Spurs and was coming off a minor injury that kept him out of the England squad. Given all the travel, the training on turf, the games on horrible turf and a terrible BMO Field pitch, was playing him all game, every game from the start really the best idea?
But the question that really matters now is what kind of lineup we'll see on Saturday against Columbus, only the only remaining 100% team in the league. This could get ugly.
Julio Cesar took a nasty knock on Saturday, but there was no word on him from those attending training so presumably he's fine, but what about ahead of him. Doneil Henry has looked good alongside Steven Caldwell, and has racked up the stats, clearances, interceptions, tackles, all that good stuff, but can he step up and be the main man in the defence? Against Jairo Arrieta, with Federico Higuain pulling the strings? I'm not entirely confident of that, but this will be a great test for him and a chance to prove right all those who are bullishly promoting him and dismissing the idea that he might be a weak link in the defence. Alongside him, probably Gale Agbossoumonde. Neither he, Nick Hagglund or Ryan Richter have played a minute yet this season, so fingers crossed.
But of course that's presuming Henry's ready to go. If not, well then we'll need two new players there, and at that point we'll probably see Justin Morrow move along to one of the centre back spots. The obvious answer to fill the gap that would create at left back is Ashtone Morgan, but apparently word from training is that he has a minor injury of his own, his hip, so there's no guarantee there. If he can't go, does Morrow stay there and we go with two centre backs that haven't seen game action yet? Can Bradley Orr play centre back? He hasn't looked great at right back so far but at least he has some experience he could bring. Can one of the midfielders drop back to left back, maybe Jeremy Hall or Jackson. That would hardly be ideal.
One reason that wouldn't be ideal is that it looks like Jonathan Osorio will be out so Hall will probably be needed alongside Michael Bradley again, and we saw how poor TFC looked without Jackson on the wing. Perhaps that would be better with Issey Nakajima-Farran playing on Alvaro Rey's opposite wing, but Jackson and Rey's play and ability to switch wings was a big factor over the first two games.
Up front, presumably we won't be seeing anything different formation wise so the two up front will presumably be Gilberto and Dwayne De Rosario. We haven't seen both of them go 90 minutes in a game yet, hopefully they have that within them as if not, it's Andrew Wiedeman.
And if you think all that sounds rough, just think what all those promotions are going to do to the bench options!
Of course the glass half full view is to look at this as an opportunity for someone to step out of the shadows. Many wondered if Gilberto could really play with Defoe. There have been mixed results so far, but now he doesn't have to worry about that, this is Gilberto's attack now, his chance to show what he can do rather than have to adapt his game to his higher profile strike partner. Maybe it will be Doneil Henry showing what he can do even without Caldwell guiding him. Maybe it will be one of the role players making a case that he should be getting into the first team. More than anything it's a chance for Ryan Nelsen to show what he can do, to show that he's more than just a guy with the most expensive team in the league to play with, to show he can take on the hottest team in the league and even without his first choice lineup shut them down.
Also frankly it's chance to play with the pressure off, Nelsen and some of the players have talked about playing with a target on their back, the RSL fans were gleefully shouting overrated as the game wound down. For this game, expectations will be close to 2013 levels, teeth gnashing will be minimised in the event of a loss. Hopefully the lack of pressure and the chance to show us all something will see the team or at least some players rise to the challenge and surprise us. In other words, you should watch with hope rather than expectation, hopefully just a short flashback to previous years.
And oh yeah, Michael Bradley's playing for the US against Mexico tonight. Pray to the god of your choice that he doesn't get hurt.