We have all heard the jokes. Someone, somewhere, after yet another year of TFC "winning" the offseason, is planning a parade route. The Whitecaps are the first pin to fall in what will surely be TFC's year.
Or something like that.
If you hit the Toronto FC wikipedia page, you will find the illustrious declaration: "Toronto FC also have a rivalry with Vancouver Whitecaps FC." To say that doesn't quite do it justice isn't half of what this fixture is to the fans. They've got Carl Robinson, they've got Russell Teibert, and they've got Matias Laba - a coup from which TFC fans have yet to fully recover. But, a new year, a new CBA, and a renewed sense of early season optimism has this fixture poised to impress. Let's break it down a little.
Match Talking Points
The Whitecaps claimed Canada's CONCACAF Champions' League spot for the upcoming year based on their playoff finish last season. In 2015, however, we return to the familiar ACC/Nutrilite Canadian Championship/Voyageurs Cup format. If TFC and Vancouver meet in Canadian Championships, it will be in the final.
It's a tale of two cities in terms of offseason shakeup. Vancouver have 22 returning players, TFC have 19 - unprecedented consistency for the Reds - but that's where the similarities end. Vancouver look set to rely on their young guns to progress and make them a playoff contender again. Toronto have brought in Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco, Benoit Cheyrou, and Damien Perquis to help get things done.
Both teams are still building chemistry between attackers. In Vancouver, Pedro Morales and Octavio Rivero will be looked to in order to create and score respectively, while for TFC, that falls on Giovinco and Altidore. The game against the Costa Rica u23s showed some promise for their burgeoning partnership, but expectations must be kept in check. This will be their first truly competitive game together. Also, TFC DPs have a (recent) history of hitting the ground running, inflating our hopes like a bus-shaped balloon, latching onto them and floating away back home to "recover". A slow start may not be the worst thing.
The game is TFC's first of 7 on the road in league play. The team site has put forward a "12 points from 7" goal as the target in their "keys to the season". Not an incredibly high bar, but it is achievable. And it starts at BC Place.
Projected TFC Starting XI
It seems likely that Vanney will start in the loose 4-2-3-1 that dominated preseason. Warren Creavalle looks set to get the start at Right Back, while the rest are no surprise.
Keys to the Game
The Whitecaps are fast, direct, and lethal in the counterattack. In contrast, TFC's backline is not exactly fleet of foot. Shutting down the counterattack and limiting Pedro Morales' ability to collect the ball in midfield and spray passes to speedsters like Kekuta Manneh, Erik Hurtado, or Darren Mattocks. Shutting down their attack will take a disciplined effort in midfield and great awareness from the back four.
Conversely, the Whitecaps back four are exploitable. Along TFC's right flank, Jordan Harvey has the tendency to get caught upfield, something the Reds can exploit with Robbie Findley's pace. Jozy Altidore has a battle on his hands against physical, aggressive centre backs in Pa Modou Kah and Kendall Waston. This is also an excellent test for Giovinco, whose technical ability may create space, but his size may lead to him being tossed about a little.
Fun Fact: Vancouver have only 3 Americans on their roster, the lowest in the league. D.C. United lead the league with 21, while TFC have 14.
The match kicks off at 6 p.m. on TSN 4. Post your predictions in the comments, set your lineups for the WTR Fantasy League (code 3363-904), and cheer the Reds on to (possibly) victory even though history would suggest otherwise!