While it would be easy to look at the recent homestand results as a disappointment, it was always likely to be a letdown.
The New York City game was a classic trap, Toronto coming off a two-week spell of inactivity and facing a well-drilled side that was in good form. As always derbies are a toss-up, but Toronto showed some of their best passages of the season, coming through with an emphatic victory against Montreal. And against DC, the third match of the week, TFC faced inclement weather and an opponent more interested in maintaining the status quo than challenging, at least until the final few moments where they pressed for a winner.
One always wants to collect as many points as possible, especially at home, but the season is long, and Toronto has themselves in position to challenge for Eastern supremacy, currently sitting in third-place on 23 points from fifteen matches, with plentiful games in hand on the clubs above and one or two on those below. Nevermind that the vast majority of their remaining fixtures will be at home, after starting the season with that long road trip.
Perhaps the reason so much was expected was because of the uncertainty that lies ahead.
Only two other MLS clubs will be missing as many players as Toronto during the Gold Cup – both Salt Lake and Dallas will also be shorn of five – but whether those five are as influential, is a matter of debate, as Toronto will be without four regular starters for the duration of their time at the tournament.
Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Jonathan Osorio, and Ashtone Morgan have departed the team to join their international sides, as too has third-string keeper Quillan Roberts, and there could not be a worse match to start the month of July.
Toronto travels the breadth of the continent, arriving in Los Angeles to meet the red-hot Galaxy this weekend, the first of three road matches that mark the final road-intensive passage of the season. Trips to New York for a rematch with City and a fixture in Columbus lie ahead, either side of a home meeting with Philadelphia and the Sunderland AFC friendly.
It remains to be seen how the threadbare TFC will fare. They survived the absence of Altidore for several weeks and outclassed Montreal without the services of a pair of starters. This club has depth, more than past TFC assemblies, but could any thrive without the services of such an influential quartet?
Enough of that fretting for now, there is a match to be played on Saturday night, and it's time for a closer look at this weekend's opponent, the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Now in his seventh full-season in charge of the club – he took over from Ruud Gullit midway through a disastrous 2008 campaign – Bruce Arena is the godfather of the American soccer coaching fraternity.
He may not have the most wins ever – Sigi Schmid holds that mark – but Arena tops the list of MLS Cup victories with five, including three of the last four with LA, and isn't that what really matters.
Maintaining excellence is possibly even harder than attaining it, and Bruce was tasked with the momentous challenge of replacing Landon Donovan, who retired with the hoisting of the 2014 MLS Cup.
Aside from the absence of Donovan, the amount of turnover was limited. Rob Friend retired, while options were declined on James Riley, Brian Perk, and Rafael Garcia – the latter two would re-sign six weeks later. Forward Chandler Hoffman was selected by Houston in the Re-Entry Draft and Charlie Rugg was loaned out to Indy Eleven.
The only truly impactful loss was the decision to trade Marcelo Sarvas to Colorado in exchange for allocation money and a swap of positions in the allocation ranking in a draft day deal. Word is LA was trying to acquire Sacha Kljestan, who eventually went to the New York Red Bulls; LA currently sit at second in that ranking.
Though that miss may have been a disappointment, LA had already reinforced the centre of the park, making Sarvas surplus to requirement, with the announcement a week earlier that Liverpool legend, Steve Gerrard would be ending his storied career in England, skipping across the pond to join the Galaxy in July. He is set to be unveiled at half-time on Saturday, but is unlikely to feature (unless...).
That major acquisition settled, if one to be waited for, Arena continued to accent his squad with a mix of veterans and rookies, as is his way. Former charge Edson Buddle joined on a free, as too did Finnish midfielder, Mika Vayrynen, after a journeyman's career through Holland, England, and his native Finland.
With only one pick through the first two rounds of the SuperDraft, that being the 21st-overall, LA selected Spanish-born, winger-forward Ignacio Magano. He would have to wait until March to be signed, while fellow draftee, goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton, selected 82nd-overall, just signed at the start of June.
That was it for off-season moves, but on May 8, LA added Sebastian Lletget, a Bay Area-native who spent the last four-plus season with English side, West Ham United. And what a revelation he has been since breaking into the side.
Heading into Saturday's encounter, there are a few players who will not be available. Alan Gordon is serving a one-match suspension for yellow card accumulation, while back-up keeper, Brian Perk, is out for the season with an ankle fracture. Another former Red will also be unavailable, as Todd Dunivant is struggling with a quad injury.
Bradford Jamieson IV has recently been removed from the report as he recovers from a concussion and related symptoms, but do not expect him to see the pitch any time soon – better to be safe than sorry.
With the Gold Cup camps underway, LA will be without a trio of potential starters, as Omar Gonzalez and Gyasi Zardes are with the American side and goalkeeper, Jaime Penedo is with Panama.
Arena was able to rest the majority of his starters in Wednesday's US Open Cup meeting in San Jose with the Earthquakes, so should field a largely first-choice eleven, absences aside, come Saturday.
The projected lineup is as follows: Brian Rowe in goal; from right to left – Dan Gargan, AJ DeLaGarza, Leonardo, and Robbie Rogers across the back-line; Stefan Ishizaki, Juninho, Baggio Husidic, and Sebastian Lletget through the midfield; with Robbie Keane and Jose Villarreal up top.
There are several alterations to that projection that are possible.
Tommy Meyer saw time at centre-back alongside Leonardo on Wednesday and could reprise that role. Both he and DeLaGarza played the entire match, but presumably Arena would prefer the experience of the latter over the rawness of the former against a dangerous Toronto attack.
Gargan split time with Oscar Sorto at right-back that night, but should resume his starting position.
In midfield, youngsters Garcia and Kenney Walker got starts in the central tandem, while Maganto and Raul Mendiola took up the wide slots. Juninho and Lletget had cameos, while Ishizaki and Husidic were rested entirely, most likely to keep them fresh for the weekend. Vayrynen could take up one of those positions if called up, but given the strong recent form there is little impetus to make a change.
Up top, Buddle could slot in alongside Keane, providing more of a lead-the-line physical focal point for the Irishman to play off of, while the young Jack McBean has seen limited time in his five seasons with the club, the majority of his minutes coming in the 2013 season – he has yet to feature this year.
Maganto has seen some time up top as well, but with Villarreal fit again, he should get the start, even though he went the distance midweek.
There are good times to play teams and bad times. Normally this would be a very bad time to face LA, who have won three of their last four in all competitions, outscoring their opponents 17-5 over that spell, but the international absences, on both sides, add an air of mystery to this encounter.
LA enter the match in fourth place in the Western Conference, on 28 points from twenty matches. They have lost just two of their last eight league matches.
As is their way, the Galaxy began the season slowly. They went unbeaten through the first three without really impressing – winning 2-0 against Chicago before drawing in Portland and at home to Houston, by 2-2 and 1-1 scorelines – and then lost back-to-back road matches, falling in DC and Vancouver by 1-0 and 2-0 results, respectively.
Strong home wins over Western challengers Seattle and Kansas City would follow – Gordon scored the game's only goal against the Sounders, while Gonzalez registered a stoppage-time winner against Sporting after Husidic and Krizsztian Nemeth exchanged first-half strikes.
And April closed with a run of five matches without a win, four of which were scheduled away from the friendly confines of Carson, California – drawing 1-1 in New York against the Red Bulls (Jamieson IV and Felipe scoring in either half), back home against Colorado by the same scoreline (Gabby Torres and Gordon the scorers), and 0-0 in Salt Lake, before losing in Dallas and Orlando.
The 2-1 loss in Dallas came at the hands of a pair of late strikes after Zardes had provided the opener in the 59th minute. Blas Perez levelled in the 77th, while Tesho Akindele nabbed the winner in the 86th minute of play. While the hefty defeat in Orlando, 4-0 against expansion City on goals from Eric Avila, Cyle Larin, Kaka, and Darwin Ceren, provided a wake-up call and proved a turning point, but first a few more twists and turns.
Back home, the Galaxy would win the next two matches by 1-0 scorelines in short order, beating both Houston and Salt Lake five days apart – Gordon and Juninho the scorers, before returning to the road for a 2-2 draw in New England against the Revolution – Teal Bunbury opened the scoring in the 5th minute, but Maganto registered his first in MLS thirteen minutes later to equalize; nine minutes later Zardes put LA ahead, only for Diego Fagundez to cancel his out in the 37th minute.
Their home form had largely carried them, riding a long unbeaten run that stretched all the way back to the first match of 2014 – a measure of 23 league matches (29 in all competitions), but that would come crashing to an end with the start of June as Vancouver strode into town, leaving with a 0-1 win at the StubHub Center with Kekuta Manneh scoring in the 32nd minute to hand the Whitecaps their first ever win in LA.
Another road draw would follow, 1-1 in Columbus – Lletget getting his first in MLS after fourteen minutes, only for Higuain to level in the 66th, before a 6-1 win in US Open Cup play saw the Galaxy find their scoring boots, abusing PSA Elite – the return to fitness of Keane was a major factor, as he scored a hat-trick, while Lletget, Zardes, and Husidic added singles.
Three days later that storm would continue with a 5-1 win over Philadelphia in Los Angeles, five different scorers tallied for the Galaxy: Husidic kicked off the rout in the 23rd minute and Juninho added a second before half-time. Zardes added a third in the 56th minute before CJ Sapong pulled one back for the visitors two minutes later, only for Ishizaki and Lletget to round out the scoring one and six minutes after Sapong's consolation.
And four days after that, again at home, they dropped another five-spot of high-flying Portland, who were riding a franchise MLS-record four-game winning streak. Again the scoring in the 5-0 win was distributed: Lletget added his fourth in as many games in 13th minute and Keane doubled the lead from the penalty spot five minutes later. Rogers scored his first of the season before the half-time whistle – on Pride Night no less – and Juninho and Villarreal completed the scoring in the second frame.
That goal-scoring run would come to an end during Rivalry Week, falling 3-1 in San Jose to the Earthquakes on the Saturday night – Juninho scored in a third-consecutive league match to open the scoring, but Chris Wondolowski equalized before halftime, while Clarence Goodson and Cordell Cato piled on through the second half.
LA would get their revenge in a US Open Cup rematch on Wednesday, moving through to the quarterfinals of the competition later this month with a 0-1 win on a 6th minute Villarreal strike, setting a date with Real Salt Lake.
It is a shame that in their only regular season meeting of 2015 these two will not be meeting at full strength...
Part Two, reviewing the game film for strengths and weaknesses will be posted first thing tomorrow morning