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MLS is not Back: Toronto FC pregame match thread—preview, starting lineups, and how to watch

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Can’t sleep? Follow along and chime in with Michael Singh as the Reds are back in action after a rather lengthy hiatus.

March 7, 2020: Toronto FC GK Quentin Westberg warms up prior to a match at BMO Field.
(Sean Pollock/Waking The Red)

MATCH DELAYED: According to TSN’s Kristian Jack, the Toronto FC and D.C. United match has been delayed. We’ll keep you posted.

8:47 a.m. EST—I have no words. The match has apparently been postponed after two worrying COVID-19 tests.


STARTING XI

Pablo Piatti makes his first start for Toronto FC while Ayo Akinola makes just his second start for the club.

A decent lineup from D.C. United to counter, including former Atlanta United midfielder Julian Gressel, who was linked to TFC in the offseason.


PREMATCH THREAD

8:11 a.m. EST—If you’re cracking a cold one, you’re a real one. I’m still half asleep. Lineups late as per usual, we’re in regular-season mode.

7:50 a.m. EST—WAKE UP! IT’S MATCH DAY! 10 minutes away from the starting lineups.

1:53 a.m. EST—Alright I’m tapping out for tonight! See you bright and early for the Toronto FC Congregation. All are welcome.

1:10 a.m. EST—Correction: Columbus up 2-0 4-0 after the match was pushed back due to rain delay. This game starting to look like UFC Fight Island.

12:08 a.m. EST—It’s officially matchday! Sidenote, Columbus Crew looking like an MLS club against Cincinnati right now, up 2-0 after the match was pushed back due to rain delay.

10:44 p.m. EST—Exciting end to that ATL-NYRB match! New York are able to hold on for the 1-0 win. Atlanta, NYCFC, and Montreal all lose on matchday one? Love to see it.

10:30 p.m. EST—In 10 12 hours TFC kickoff. I may or may not be counting down the minutes at this point.

9:54 p.m. EST— Second half is starting in the ATL-NYRB game. I’ll be diving into a Moscow Mule. Speaking of drinks, any of you biting the bullet and cracking a cold one tomorrow morning? Don’t worry, we’re in a safe place. This is WTR Afterdark (thanks Jeff).

9:36 p.m. EST— 1-0 NYRB at halftime. I keep thinking about seeing Michael Bradley back on the field tomorrow. What are you most looking forward to?

9:19 p.m. EST— Flipping between Atlanta United / New York Red Bulls game and UFC tonight. It’s our first look at Atlanta without Josef Martinez, who are down 1-0 early to NYRB, who are always a dangerous side.

Don’t forget to leave your guesses in our prediction league.

8:58 p.m. EST — There’s a million different thoughts and a rush of emotion going through me as I type this out, but tomorrow morning when we wake up, it’ll be a Toronto FC match day. Exactly four months to the day, the league halted play due to COVID-19, which is pretty crazy to think about.

If you needed any more hyping up, check out this amazing video by our friends at TSN.


PREDICTED STARTING XI

We’ll post the actual starting lineups as soon as we hear, but for now here’s our best guess. We could be seeing the debut of Pablo Piatti.

WTR’S PREDICTED STARTING XI VS DC UNITED
(JEFFREY P. NESKER/WAKING THE RED)

MATCH PREVIEW (Courtesy Brady Reid)

ST.JOHN’S, Canada— It’s been over four months since Toronto FC last played an MLS match, defeating NYCFC 1-0 at home way back on March 7.

Three flight attempts, two slices of pumpernickel, and a postponed kickoff later and TFC are finally set to face off against D.C. United this Sunday in Orlando to open their ‘MLS is Back’ account.

While there’s certainly some skepticism surrounding the safety of the players and personnel during the tournament, it’s not all doom and gloom as the Reds return to action.

Captain Michael Bradley has taken the time during the long layoff to nurse the ankle injury that kept him out to start the season and is now fully fit and available for selection in Greg Vanney’s side.

Offseason DP signing Pablo Piatti is also healthy after a hamstring injury kept him out of the opening two TFC matches. Fitness has been the concern for Piatti since joining the club from La Liga outfit Espanyol. Even at age 31, if the Argentine is operating at anything near 100 per cent, he should be a huge boost to an already potent attack.

With plenty of options in midfield and on the flanks for Vanney to consider, the toughest decision might be choosing who will lead the line against D.C.

Thanks to a delayed return from Florida back to Toronto, Jozy Altidore is unlikely to appear in the Reds tournament opener according to Vanney, with a lack of training sessions and subsequent match fitness a concern.

With the kickoff delayed by a couple of days, it will be interesting to see how the schedule change impacts Altidore’s availability on Sunday.

To make matters worse, surprise rookie sensation and logical Altidore replacement Achara suffered a serious knee injury in training last week which required a surgery that leaves him sidelined for the remainder of 2020.

In lieu of a natural center forward, TFC might fancy a false nine Alejandro Pozuelo to start things off in the Sunshine State, a tactic they rode throughout their playoff run all the way to the MLS Cup Final last fall.

For a more detailed breakdown of how the Reds shape up heading into the restart, check out our WTR refresher.

On the D.C. United side of things, the opponent comes in with their full squad present in Orlando, save for midfielder Paul Arriola who continues to rehab a significant knee injury.

Longtime Columbus Crew attacker and MLS veteran Federico Higuaín is set to make his debut for D.C. in the tournament with the 35-year-old Argentine fully recovered from an ACL injury.

Also joining Higuaín in Washington during the offseason was former Atlanta United man and 2018 MLS Cup winner Julian Gressel.

The German midfielder is a huge addition to the Black-and-Red attack and is a name the TFC faithful will recall from their 2019 playoff run, with Gressel opening the scoring for Atlanta before Toronto came back to win the Eastern Conference final 2-1 last October.

Bringing in Ola Kamara provided head coach Ben Olsen the third piece in a trio of intriguing new options alongside Higuaín and Gressel.

Kamara joins D.C. from Chinese side Shenzhen after spending the 2019 season overseas. The 30-year-old Norwegian does have plenty of past MLS success on his resume, scoring 48 goals in 90 league appearances in stints with both Columbus and the LA Galaxy.

The one knock against United this season could be the lack of youth within their attacking options. However, if the likes of Kamara and Higuaín are healthy, they have proven in the past they are quite capable of providing offense as they’ll likely be leaned on as a pivotal part of Olsen’s new-look squad.

To find the last time these two sides faced off, we have to throw it back to the opening round of last year’s playoffs where TFC hit D.C. for four extra-time strikes in a 5-1 thriller at BMO Field.

The final scoreline was ultimately a flattering one with the game ending in a 1-1 stalemate in regulation before Toronto caught fire during the additional thirty minutes.

Although neither team will field the same starting XI that squared off last October in Toronto, the Reds come in as the favourite to come out on top.

With just ninety minutes available for these two settle things on Sunday, expect TFC to come out aiming to find the back of the net early and often as they look to start their ‘MLS is Back’ campaign on the right foot.

Additional Notes:

  • Both teams will have the option to use five substitutes in the match but are limited to three different opportunities to make those changes throughout the 90 minutes.
  • A win or draw against D.C. would stretch TFC’s regular season unbeaten run to 13 matches.
  • Were Eriq Zavaleta to feature for the Reds in the tournament, it would mark his 100th league appearance for the club.

HOW TO WATCH

This feels awesome to type: kickoff will be just after 9 am on TSN! We’ll see you bright an early!