Saturday's loss to New York City may have been disappointing and frustrating, but a match that was always primed for an upset will have imprinted some valuable lessons.
Rest is good, but too much can be a problem – a rusty team against a soaring one can be the difference. Opponents who cannot match quality will seek to destroy it – Toronto must find a way to power through such situations. And despite the positive start to the 2015 season, there is plenty of progress still needed – it will never be easy out there on the pitch, no matter how well yesterday went.
Fortunately, a quick turnover will allow the club to scrub that dirty feeling off, as Wednesday night sees them face a new opponent; a familiar one as well, with Canadian rivals, Montreal, making the short trip West to face Toronto.
With the Gold Cup camps set to start in the coming days – Canada begins assembling on June 26 for a ten-day training camp – Toronto has two more chances to make use of their full-squad, before call-ups start to bite (assuming all are allowed to stay with the club until the end of the month).
A match against Eastern Conference leading DC United lies ahead on the weekend, but first a tricky clash against a resurgent Montreal offers TFC a hope at moving up into third-place in the East, before them only DC and New England – Orlando City lies in the way, a point ahead of Toronto, but those same three points would allow Montreal to leapfrog Toronto with a game still in hand after their stop-start venture into the season with Champions League commitments.
The teams may have already met twice this season – Montreal taking the Voyageurs Cup series on away goals after winning 1-0 at home and losing 3-2 in the return leg – and should thus be familiar to one another, but still, a closer look at this midweek opponent, the Montreal Impact, is in order.
In his second year as head coach of the Impact, Frank Klopas has started to see his vision come to fruition: following their progression to the CONCACAF Champions League final, the Impact have surged up the MLS table, currently sitting in fifth place in the East on seventeen points from twelve matches – with several games in hand on most opponents for good measure.
But it was nearly not to be, as the club's struggles in 2014 – they finished bottom of the East and the league last season – had his future at the helm in doubt.
Having survived that cull, Klopas was forced to assess what the club was losing, before going on to rebuild his side.
The retirement of Marco Di Vaio left a huge dent in their goal-scoring prospects, while the decisions to either decline options or allow contracts to expire, saw several other veterans make their way out. Matteo Ferrerai and Gorka Larrea headlined those who saw their options declined, so too did homegrown player Zakaria Messoudi, while Futty Danso and Troy Perkins left as their contracts ended.
Further draining the club of experience, Heath Pearce was selected in the Expansion Draft by Orlando City, while Issey Nakajima-Farran, he of the birthday trade a year ago, was waived, as too was Karl Ouimette, and Louis Beland-Goyette, two more homegrowns headed out the door.
Felipe Martins, the Brazilian midfielder, was reunited with the coach who signed him, Jesse Marsch, in New York with the Red Bulls – Ouimette too found new life under his former boss in New Jersey.
Krzysztof Krol, Santiago Gonzalez, and Kristian Nicht, the emergency goalkeeper signed for the Champions League final, were also dispatched, either waived or by mutual termination – which sounds ominous. And most recently Blake Smith was waived.
With almost half the squad turning over, Klopas began his tinkering early, selecting Donny Toia in the Chivas USA Disperal Draft last November. In December, a pair of veteran midfielders joined with Nigel Reo-Coker selected in the Waiver Draft and Marco Donadel signing on a free transfer from Napoli (he was actually out on loan with Verona).
Montreal added more experience, of the MLS variety, later that month selecting a pair of players in the Re-Entry Draft: goalkeeper Eric Kronberg joined in stage one, while Bakary Soumare was picked in stage two, reuniting with Klopas who coached him in Chicago.
As the calendar turned to 2015, defensive reinforcements were sought. Victor Cabrera, an Argentine, was acquired on loan from famed River Plate, while familial considerations presented a chance to sign Belgian international Laurent Ciman, which was snapped at by the Impact.
They also chose Romario Williams, a Jamaican-born Generation Adidas forward in the SuperDraft with the third-overall pick – their only selection in the first two rounds having shipped their second-rounder to Portland for the services of Danso. They did pick up Cameron Porter in the third round, a Princeton rookie who impressed early, only to suffer a devastating ACL injury that prematurely ended his season.
A series of trades would complete their moves: in exchange for Felipe both Eric Alexander and the rights to Ambroise Oyongo came to Montreal, while Dominic Oduro made the short journey from Toronto in exchange for allocation money.
And with injuries mounting, they picked up Kenny Cooper on waivers, though he too suffered a long-term knee injury shortly thereafter.
Heading into Wednesday's match, aside from injuries to Porter and Cooper, Montreal has another five players listed as unavailable.
Justin Mapp suffered a nasty dislocated elbow in the season opener in DC – he is reportedly nearing a return, but Wednesday is likely too soon for his consideration; Adrian Lopez is still recovering from another knee injury – he has been so unlucky; Hassoun Camara too has a knee issue, while Eric Miller is dealing with a hamstring, and Dilly Duka has an ominously-vague sounding head injury – though he was removed from the club's internal injury list ahead of Wednesday.
Further complicating prediction, Montreal has been and will be busy in the coming weeks, their intermittent start to the season will see a serious fixture backlog cluttering up the rest of their schedule. Having played on Saturday at home against Orlando City, they leave Toronto for a Saturday match in Philadelphia before returning home to face Columbus the following weekend.
Their projected lineup for Wednesday night is as follows: Evan Bush in goal; from right to left – Ambroise Oyongo, Bakary Soumare, Laurent Ciman, and Donny Toia across the back; Callum Mallace and Nigel Reo-Coker sitting deep in the midfield with Andres Romero, Ignacio Piatti, and Eric Alexander further afield; Jack McInerney will top the formation.
That is more or less the same lineup they ran out on Saturday against Orlando City – there is little need to change a winning eleven – aside the addition of Eric Alexander in for Maxim Tissot on the left; Alexander provides a bit more two-way play than Tissot – and inserting the young legs of Mallace alongside Reo-Coker rather than Donadel, who is due a rest .
Starting at the back there are several variations that could be chosen. Wandrille Lefevre has seen some minutes of late, and would slot in a centre-back alongside Ciman, if Soumare cannot go. While Cabrera has seen some time at right-back. Oyongo is more a left-sided player, but like Toronto with Ashtone Morgan and Justin Morrow, sometimes switching a player to the opposite side can be the best option.
In midfield, it would not be a surprise if club captain, Patrice Bernier is given the start against a familiar foe, but his time has come more often from the bench. If he does get the start, he could displace Reo-Coker, who played on the weekend and like Donadel could use a rest. Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare has seen even fewer minutes than Bernier, but is a candidate to eat up ground in the middle.
Piatti is more-or-less a lock – he is the straw that stirs the drink after all, but Klopas could opt to field Alexander on the right, either moving Romero to the left, or fielding Tissot, if he seeks to add defensive presence on Sebastian Giovinco's side. And if Duka is fit, he could be inserted either wide left, or in the middle for Piatti.
McInerney should get the start, but alternatively, Dominic Oduro or Anthony Jackson-Hamel could see some minutes, more likely from the bench. Though if Klopas is feeling tricky, one or both of those attackers put into wide positions could pin back Toronto's width and provide additional attacking options.
As mentioned, Montreal enters Wednesday's match two points behind Toronto for fourth in the East, on seventeen points from twelve matches – a record of five wins, five losses, and two draws. They have won three of their last four matches and six of the last eight, since the Voyageurs Cup victory over TFC mid May. That record drops to one win, four losses, and a draw away from home – scoring just three goals to the eleven they have conceded.
Their season began at the end of February with a home and away series against Mexican side CF Pachuca, drawing 2-2 in Mexico and then 1-1 at home, advancing on away goals.
They would lose their opening MLS match – 1-0 in DC on a goal from Jairo Arrieta – before returning to international play with a 2-0 win over LD Alajuelense of Costa Rica.
The Impact would pick up their first point with a 0-0 draw in New England – surviving the dismissal of Hassoun Camara for a pair of bookings - and followed up with another draw, 2-2 against Orlando City, in their home opener – Piatti and McInerney gave the Impact a lead, only for goals from Pedro Ribeiro and Kaka to equalize - before travelling to Costa Rica where they lost 4-2, again advancing on away goals.
Four days later they would lose 3-0 in Houston – Giles Barnes, Ricardo Clark, and Rob Lovejoy the scorers - their final MLS match for nearly a month as the league rescheduled matches in preparation for the Champions League Final.
They would take a 1-1 draw from the match at Club America, but fell 2-4 at home in the second leg, crumbling at the final hurdle against the Mexican powerhouses.
A week later they would return to the pitch for a Voyageurs Cup match against Toronto at home, winning 1-0 against a weakened TFC – McInerney scoring the only goal in the 68th minute.
Three days on they would lose 1-2 at home against Portland – Nat Borchers scoring first and Diego Valeri adding a second on his return, Oduro scored the Impact's consolation - before progressing to the final of the Voyageurs Cup with a 3-2 loss in Toronto – Jozy Altidore and Kenny Cooper exchanged first half goals, before Benoit Cheyrou and Giovinco scored at the start of the second half two minutes apart; Oduro would haunt his former club with an 84th minute strike that leveled the series and gave Montreal the away-goal they needed - a result heralded by ill-planned fireworks at BMO Field.
Still winless in MLS, they would return to leg play with a thumping 4-1 win over Salt Lake – a Romero brace accompanied by strikes from Ciman and Duka – and added a second-straight win, 2-1 over Dallas, the following match – Piatti scored from the spot before setting up McInerney prior to Matt Hedges pulling one back for Dallas.
Montreal would end May with a loss, falling 3-0 in Chicago – Harrison Shipp scoring the first, Jeff Larentowicz and Kennedy Igboananike would add theirs after Donadel was sent off for a second yellow card - before rebounding with another two wins: beating Vancouver 2-1 at Stade Saputo midweek – McInerney and Piatti scoring either side of a Pedro Morales penalty - and 1-2 in Columbus – Tissot and Romero scoring with Federico Higuain adding one in stoppage-time.
A week on they would lose 3-1 to New York City in New York. David Villa scored in the first half and Mix Diskerud added a second in the 76th minute. Lefevre pulled one back in the 88th, making amends for his slip on Diskerud's strike, but Kwadwo Poku added the third in the 90th minute, finalizing the result.
And this past weekend they beat Orlando City handily, Toia and Oduro providing the goals for a 2-0 result. Toia met a corner kick with a sharp header at the near-post, while Oduro blazed down the right, collecting his own blocked pass to shuttle an effort past Tally Hall.
Part Two, hitting the game film for strengths and weaknesses, will be posted early tomorrow morning