Toronto FC have undoubtedly "won" the offseason yet again. They did it in a different way than they've ever done - instead of buying big names from abroad, they've brought in quality MLS players with years of experience under their belt. Will Johnson, Drew Moor, Steven Beitashour, and Clint Irwin have been brought in to help stabilize a defense that was poor at best last season. As for form, no - preseason is not a good indicator, so we won't go there. TFC should be better this season than they were last.
The Red Bulls, though, may have gotten worse. The Supporters Shield winners lost Matt Miazga, who was a surprise rock at the back for them. Damien Perrinelle is injured, and that leaves Canadian Karl Ouimette and newcomer Gideon Baah to marshal the backline. Otherwise, New York is largely unchanged and that means the Wright-Phillips brothers, Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty, and Lloyd Sam can do some damage.
In short, teams with strong attacks and sometimes suspect defending will go at it on Sunday, and whomever scores last could very well be the winner.
TFC spent the bulk of preseason in the 4-3-3, trying to work a way to get all their best pieces on the field. Then, the linchpin of that formation - Jozy Altidore - got hurt. Altidore's skillset is unique on TFC following the departure of Gomez and Moore - nobody else holds the ball up well on the Reds. This may mean that Osorio gets shuttled up farther forward to play the wing, and Giovinco will play the main striker's role. For what its worth, Giovinco has been incredible receiving the ball in traffic thus far in his MLS career and could pose more of a problem than New York suspects.
TFC draft pick Tsubasah Endoh gets the start on the right after massively impressing in preseason and earning a pro contract. The back four have been working together extensively in training and preseason and there's no reason to expect anything different from Greg Vanney.
The question mark, to me, is how the midfield three operates. Cheyrou is most comfortable when he doesn't have to cover too much ground, which means that Johnson will have to eat up the field more than he has in the past. He and Michael Bradley both will have more defensive responsibilities than some TFC fans may be comfortable with (for the last time, neither are defensive midfielders), but the pair communicates well and may complement each other better on the field than some are expecting.
Losing Altidore to injury certainly throws a wrench into Vanney's original game plan, but its early in the season, on the road, against the Supporters Shield winners. This should give the Reds a bit of freedom as expectations can be understandably lowered for the game in New Jersey. A 2-2 draw with equal parts attacking flair and defensive miscues is my prediction.
You can catch the game on MLS Soccer Sunday - 1:30pm on TSN4.