Part One, discussing their lineup and form, was posted earlier
With the game set to kick off in less than 24 hours, these segments will be a little briefer than usual – the ramifications of a tight schedule.
The primary concern for Toronto heading into Saturday's match will be the form of Benny Feilhaber, who with seven goals and eleven assists, has been even more influential than Dom Dwyer, having what is already a career season.
With a stable of willing runners in Peter Vermes' side, Feilhaber's passing ability has been immense for Sporting.
Consider Dwyer's goal from their recent win over Montreal: Kevin Ellis steps up to confront Callum Mallace, forcing a turnover in midfield and touching towards Feilhaber under the centre-circle. In an instant, Feilhaber turns possession into an attack, threading an immaculate through-ball between the unsuspecting centre-backs in order to spring Dwyer in on goal:
The finish was perfect, but that pass is what made the goal – that is what Feilhaber is capable of and has been doing all season.
A high-pressure system installed by Vermes will see Sporting look to force turnovers whenever possible, and Toronto must be careful with the ball, especially in their own half. And those kind of lightning attacks are near-impossible to defend against, without rooting them out at the source.
But a passer alone cannot score, what he needs is movement, both to free targets and to open up those lanes. Sporting achieves this with excellent use of speed and width from both of their wide attackers.
Krizstian Nemeth has been a wonderful addition, but his impressive goal-scoring and accuracy – he scored seven goals from his first seven shots on target – has dried up of late, going four matches without a goal. As a runner and a playmaker however, he has shown he still has value, collecting two assists in that same four-match run.
Just watch the combination of hold-up play and intricate work in tight areas he accomplishes in order to craft a chance for Jacob Peterson. He stays onside and near the ball, anticipating it falling to him and then, rather than panic or attempt a wasteful effort under coverage, he deftly works down the side of the box before rolling a ball back into the heart of the area:
Peterson would see his goal-bound effort saved on the line by Jeff Attinella, but the formula was there. Kansas City is very fond of those cut-back plays, drawing all the opponent's attention to one side opening up space for a late or wide runner to find channels to goal.
The key for Toronto to defend against such a threat is to have midfielders and full-backs be aware of who in their vicinity is making the run, then matching their efforts with a defensive one.
Again, without Dwyer, it will fall to Nemeth, Graham Zusi, Marcel de Jong, and Peterson to make those same runs.
The risk that comes with matching their runs however, is that an overreaction to that pressure can force the back-line to drop a little too deep, thus opening up the top of the box for the late or high-hovering run.
Feilhaber's goal against Montreal was just such an example of that, while adding a few further sights of some of the previously mentioned threats:
Another turnover, by Roger Espinoza stepping in front of Marco Donadel, was forced just outside the Montreal box. Espinoza finds Nemeth lurking wide on the left with a pass, turning Montreal's attention and instilling a panic. Nemeth then hits a low pull-back across to the penalty spot, where it is met by Feilhaber for the opening goal:
Mallace was right there, but in his haste - and with an eye firmly on the ball, not the player nearest – he leaves Feilhaber completely unmarked and with the space to take the chance.
In order to not fall to a similar play, TFC needs to have a series of clearly defined roles – namely, cover the closest man – and see concentrated performances from their defensive midfielders, who will have those responsibilities fall to their shoulders with the back-line holding off the direct attack.
And should a gap form between the defensive lines and Feilhaber be given chance for a crack, he has no qualms, and little difficulty, doing damage from there. Salt Lake gave him way too much space, and paid the penalty for it:
One last time... without Dwyer, they are short a primary attacking target on set-pieces, but with Ellis, who scored against Vancouver – on a near-post run – as well as Matt Besler, Amadou Dia, and the rest
as target, Toronto would be well served to limit such chances. And do not sleep on Besler's long throws.
On the other side of the ball, Sporting are a very solid side, averaging slightly more than one goal against per match, but they can be had in a variety of ways.
Salt Lake and Javier Morales were able to expose a shockingly soft underbelly in their recent encounter. Collecting a little knockdown, Morales was allowed to walk past three defenders before slotting a shot past Tim Melia to open the scoring:
Not every player has the skill on the ball that Morales possesses – Sebastian Giovinco does – but that play did provide a sign of a defense that is unsure of itself.
Sometimes the proper step is to concede the space, block the route to goal and close down the shot, but in their haste, Sporting commits to a series of pregnant interventions, both Besler and de Jong conducting last-ditch, desperation tackles that rule them out of the play. Defenders who do that, know they have reason to be desperate.
Giovinco will have a field day with defenders who are over-eager to commit; Orlando City's Aurelien Collin, a former KC defender himself, paid the price for that tendency – will be very fun to watch.
That exact same over-exuberance was on display when Ignacio Piatti was one-on-one with Ellis out wide. Knowing he was in a precarious position, Ellis attempted to dive in, was easily side-stepped by the Argentine, and the result was a goal:
If they make those same mistakes against Toronto, Giovinco will make them suffer.
That play also showed the potential down-side of playing a possession-pressure game. KC gives up possession deep in the Montreal end and then Espinoza attempts to make amends, but the rest of his side is too spaced and relaxed – it began with a Sporting free-kick. Once Espinoza is drawn out and by-passed, Mallace has tons of space and all day to move forward and pick out the pass for Piatti.
Whenever a system requires so many attacking pieces, especially the full-backs, there is a risk that a quick turnover or a moment of inattention, will expose.
Toronto needs to be sharp and have their passing crisp, in order to profit.
Full-backs who are primarily attackers are always vulnerable to being caught ball-watching. Ontario-product de Jong has been exciting going forward, and what a cannon of a left-foot, but his back-side marking on Joao Plata was atrocious:
He recovered just at the last-second, forcing a hurried shot that touched off the bar, but that sort of isolation on an attacking with better awareness can be costly.
It is easy to overlook the presence of Plata, he is very little, but the towering Devon Sandoval was just as able to drift out wide and find the space to attack. When Dia was forced to step up to Luke Mulholland, a simple touch to Sandoval played him in – again the woodwork would be required to prevent a goal.
Marky Delgado, Jonathan Osorio, Robbie Findley, and the full-backs, presumably Ashtone Morgan and Justin Morrow, can find those channels, as too can Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. When Toronto is in rhythm, they can trouble even the league's best defenders.
One final note: Sporting themselves are susceptible to the conceding set-pieces. Everyone knows that Brad Davis is a fine taker, but somehow Clark was able to escape a marker and outleap a defender to get on the end:
Toronto has neither scored much from set-pieces, nor have they needed to, but when the games get closer, it is nice to have that tool in the back-pocket. Now is as good a time as ever.
Points of Interest
This is the only meeting between the two clubs this regular season and will be the 22nd meeting all-time. In the previous 21, Kansas City have won twelve, Toronto four, and five have ended in draws.
Ten of those have been played at BMO Field, where Sporting have won four, Toronto three, and a further three have ended level.
KC have won the last two encounters and are unbeaten in five, stretching back to a 2-1 Toronto win in 2013 – the match at the SkyDome that Robert Earnshaw score a brace and an impressive debut from John Bostock. KC won their last two trips to Toronto by 1-2 scorelines. That seems like so very long ago...