It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The 2017 MLS Cup playoffs kick off tonight, and while Toronto FC has to wait until next week to get involved, they could find out their opponent tonight.
Should the New York Red Bulls defeat the Chicago Fire in tonight’s knockout round match at Toyota Park, they will face TFC. Otherwise, Toronto will play the winner of Atlanta United and Columbus Crew.
With that in mind, our weekly mailbag has a number of playoff related topics, but also touches on Sebastian Giovinco’s free kick record, Mauro Biello’s future and Toronto FC goal celebrations.
Anthony asks: “Who do you think are the toughest/easiest opponents in the Eastern Conference side of the playoffs? Western if you're up for it as well”
Toronto FC only lost to one team in the MLS Cup Playoffs this season, and that was a 2-1 loss to the Columbus Crew all the way back in April. So to say Toronto will go in as heavy favourites against any opposition they face is an understatement.
But that certainly doesn’t guarentee smooth sailing to another MLS Cup Final, nor that they get there at all. For me, the toughest opponent for them right now is the one who they just faced: Atlanta United.
If the season series was a two-legged playoff, the two sides would be headed for extra time right now, which tells you just how tight things have been. Atlanta has the speed and skill to truly compete with Toronto FC, and a series between these two would be excellent to watch.
As for out west, I think Portland has to be the favourite to reach the MLS Cup Final. They finished the season in solid form, claiming the top spot in a weak Western Conference. Diego Valeri has a strong case for 2017 MLS MVP.
Paul asks: “Did Gio set any records this year? Specifically thinking of dead ball goals. Any other records by TFC other than the big ones?”
For the most part, it was a down year for Sebastian Giovinco across the board. This is mostly due to struggling through injuries for most of the season, as TFC were extra cautious with the atomic ant.
But, yes, the one record that Seba did set this season has to do with free kicks. His goal against Atlanta from a free-kick was his sixth of the season from a direct deadball situation, which is a new MLS record. He also broke the record this year for most career MLS free kick goals, he now has 13.
It is incredible to think that many called for Giovinco to be taken off of free kicks, especially after players like Victor Vazquez and Jozy Altidore showed what they can do. But nobody is better than Giovinco, and he proved that again this year.
For reference, here is a compilation of Giovinco free kick goals from 2017:
As for Toronto FC, one record that I found particularly impressive this season was the fact that they finished an MLS-record full 12 points ahead of any other team in the league.
Tej asks “Would you consider sitting Moor if there's a return game in Atlanta? that turf makes the ball travel way too fast for him to cover Martinez”
It was pretty clear on Sunday that Moor was a bit off the pace, as Tej mentioned. Centreback partner Chris Mavinga, who had a heck of a game, had to bail him out on a few occasions.
However, I would still start Moor going forward, just not in a back four. I think at this stage in his career Moor is far more effective in a back three where he can have players like Mavinga and Eriq Zavaleta cover for him. This leaves him the opportunity to do what he does best, which is organize the backline and play well positionally.
I don’t think Toronto has another player like Moor who can be a backline general. It is also worth noting Moor’s effectiveness in posession, which is rarely highlighted. Only Jonathan Osorio and Michael Bradley have a better pass success percentage than Moor (86.5%) this season.
Luca asks “Thoughts on Mauro Biello potentially joining the Canada national team staff?”
While I haven’t personally heard any rumblings that this might be a possibility, other than Biello saying in the past he’d be interested in the Canada job, this would be a great fit. I think Biello is a great coach, and one that was able to get a lot out of a Montreal Impact group that wasn’t all that great on paper.
I think Octavio Zambrano, so far, has proven to be a good hire from Canada Soccer. But it is also incredibly important that homegrown coaches like Biello continue to develop. That’s why I’m happy that Michael Findlay has stayed on as part of Zambrano’s staff.
Biello’s knowledge and passion for Canadian soccer would be a great addition to the national team staff. Overall, I just hope he ends up with a good coaching job because he has earned it after his time in Montreal.
Phil asks: “What are TFC's best goal celebrations? Stir the pot, sign the cheque, motorcycle, beer cup? Others?”
That is a pretty good list, and Giovinco is definitely the best goal celebrater in Toronto FC history. On TFC’s current team I’m also a fan of Altidore’s hand to the ear celebration, I know it has been done plenty but he always seems to do it at the right moment.
Going into the vault of TFC history, I mean obviously Dwayne De Rosario’s trademark “shake and bake” has to be right up there. I was also a big fan of Robert Earnshaw’s front flip celebration.
A person favourite is Terry Dunfield’s “I’m so excited I don’t know what to do with myself” after scoring a stoppage time winner against the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2012. I’m pretty sure he was going to jump in the crowd, as kind of became his signatrue celebration, but then realized he was already on a yellow card.
Finally, Aron asks: “Beard balm or beard oil?”
Should have probably left this one for Tej, who is the only Waking the Red mailbag writer with facial hair worth balming or oiling (my “beard” is mostly just lazy stubble). But as the resident beard expert here at Waking the Red, apparently, I’ll try my best.
My understanding is that beard oil is all-purpose tool that helps keeps your beard stay moisturized and conditioned while reducing itchiness.
Beard Balm, meanwhile, is helpful for longer beards when it comes to styling and also makes it as though the beard appears thicker.
I’m gonna go with beard oil, but it will probably be a while before I need it. Unless I grow a playoff beard for my Montréal Canadiens this year... which seems rather unlikely.