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Preview: Toronto FC playoff push continues against New England Revolution

The Reds are now just six points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

SOCCER: AUG 14 MLS - New England Revolution at Toronto FC
Jonathan Osorio and Brandon Bye get ready for a corner kick during Toronto FC’s last match against the New England Revolution, a 2-1 loss at BMO Field.
Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Toronto FC will visit the New England Revolution on Saturday night as the Reds look to put more points on the board in their hunt for a playoff position.

Following their trouncing of Charlotte FC last weekend, the belief within the team and the fanbase should be rising. With 12 league matches still to play, Toronto are six points behind FC Cincinnati, who occupy the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Reds grabbed three huge points off a team ahead of them in the table in that Charlotte match and they will look to repeat that same feat in New England.

Going into Saturday’s match, questions marks remain around the fitness of Lorenzo Insigne, and to a lesser extent, Federico Bernardeschi. Bernardeschi played the full 90 in Toronto’s last match, their loss to Vancouver in the Canadian Championship Final while Insigne played 88 minutes at BC Place. With TFC looking for an equalizer for most of the match, Bob Bradley likely felt the need to keep two of his most experienced players on the pitch, with a trophy and Champions League qualification on the line. As a result, he may opt to limit the minutes of the two Italian internationals in Foxborough.

The status surrounding Mark Anthony Kaye also remains unclear, with the midfielder not appearing in the squad for the Vancouver match after being injured against Charlotte. Even though the Canadian international is new to the team, his role in the middle of the park will be vital as the season continues, especially with few central midfielders to call upon to replace him. Though Toronto dominated possession on Tuesday, his absence was indeed felt. The balance felt off with Jayden Nelson playing more centrally, with there seeming to be a lot of space in between the defence and midfield which the Whitecaps capitalized on when on the counter.

Another returning Red hoping to play on Saturday will be Doneil Henry. After training with the team last week and making two brief cameos against Charlotte and the Whitecaps, the TFC academy product could get his first start for the club since October 2014, which happened to be against the Revolution.

SOCCER: OCT 25 MLS - Toronto FC at Revolution
Doneil Henry fends off Charlies Davies during the defender’s last start for Toronto FC, a 1-0 loss to the Revolution at Gillette Stadium in October 2014.
Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It will be a battle of two former United States men’s national team head coaches as Bob Bradley will be opposite the American coach he replaced in 2006, Bruce Arena.

This was set to be Jozy Altidore’s reunion with some of his old TFC teammates but news broke on Thursday that the striker will get a loan move to Puebla of Liga MX. Altidore has one goal in 17 appearances in MLS action this season, coming off the bench in 13 of those matches.

New England’s Omar Gonzalez could suit up against his former side, though he has only made 10 appearances in MLS for his newest club. The towering centre back made 72 appearances for Toronto FC.

Gustavo Bou has been carrying the goalscoring load for New England this season, especially since the loss of Adam Buksa. The Argentine has seven goals in eight starts since Buksa’s sale to RC Lens, but he missed his side’s last match, a goalless draw with Columbus Crew.

With Buksa and Altidore now departed, Arena will have to rely upon Bou and the recently acquired designated player Giacomo Vrioni to find the goals for the remainder of the campaign. Revs attacking midfielder Carles Gil leads the league with 11 assists and will continue to create chances for whoever plays in front of him.

The Revolution are winless in their last three and currently sit 11th in the Eastern Conference, four points ahead of Toronto FC.

Game Notes

  • Toronto FC have lost once in their past 7 meetings with New England (4-1-2)
  • Alex Bono is one match away from making his 150th appearance for Toronto FC

Predicted Lineups

New England Revolution: Petrovic; Jones, Kessler, Farrell, Bye; Polster, Kaptoum; Traustason, Gil, Lletget; Bou

Toronto FC: Bono; Criscito, MacNaughton, O’Neill, Thompson; Kaye, Bradley, Osorio; Insigne, Akinola, Bernardeschi

Match Details

Opponent: New England Revolution

Kickoff time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Watch: TSN

Stadium: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.

Q&A with Jake Catanese from The Bent Musket

What has gone wrong with Altidore and Gonzalez this season, or were their signings always meant to just add depth?

I think at best these were supposed to be depth signings as the Revs rotated their squad early in the year during the CCL. The problem is New England ran into a few injuries early and Omar in particular had to play a lot of minutes and it was pretty clear he had lost a step. Ideally, Gonzalez should have been a late game closer-esque sub helping the Revs clear out crosses and such, but after a few late game breakdowns, this idea was quickly stopped and Jon Bell started getting more starting minutes and rookie draft pick Ben Reveno was promoted from Revs II for some bench minutes.

Burce Arena has always mentioned some fitness issues with Jozy, but it was never clear if this was an injury issue or just an extended preseason fitness run. Either way, in Jozy’s limited minutes, he struggled to find the game with the Revs and managed just 2-of-14 shooting with one goal over about 600 minutes and 4 starts, mostly being used in short sub cameos. Now that he’s going on loan to Puebla, I doubt he returns to New England next year when Toronto stops paying the bulk of his contract or whatever that agreement is. Omar at least is a good mentor for young Henry Kessler and Jon Bell though an expensive one for a league like MLS where salary cap value exists. I like Omar and Jozy, they have had great USA and MLS careers, but it didn’t work out and Bruce and the Revs front office recognized that and made additions before the end of the spring window when it was clear reinforcements were needed and it’s possible the Revs make a trade or signing for another attacker or centerback though we have no rumors yet to go on.

What do you make of the addition of Vrioni? What are fans expecting out of him?

The similarities between the Buksa and Vrioni signings are rather uncanny. Both were coming off solid seasons in Poland and Austria respectively, and were poised to break into their national team sides regularly with Poland and Albania respectively which Buksa did in 2021 after an understandably rough start with the Revs in 2020 thanks to the pandemic. Once Buksa hit his stride though, he was a force the last year and a half and I have every hope that Vrioni can absolutely reach that level of form and production. The Revs being able to sign a player from Juventus, even at their U23 level, would have been practically unheard of a few years ago but the club being willing to sell players on is a huge deal for players who recognize that MLS is a great way to make some money and get into an even better league.

If you check out some highlights on Vrioni, he can pretty much score from anywhere in the box. Buksa had the aerial edge in his skill set and that was a tremendous asset for the Revs and Vrioni coming in might have a more well rounded finishing game that New England will have to adjust to a bit but I am excited for the way Vrioni can combine with the attacking mid trio of Carles Gil, Dylan Borrero, and Sebastian Lletget. Anything Vrioni can do in 2022 is a bonus because this Revs season was always going to be weird with the outgoing players leaving halfway through, but if he can hit the ground running anywhere close to his form with Tirol where he co-led the Austrian Bundesliga with 19 goals last season, I think the Revs will be just fine going forward.

The Revs are 2-2-5 (W-L-D) since Buksa’s departure. Do you think the team has what it takes to sneak into the postseason?

The Revs can absolutely do more than sneak into the postseason, they can make a very good run in the Eastern Conference Playoffs but they need to start turning some of these draws into wins. This was something that occurred regularly last year during the record setting Shield winning campaign but this year that magic just isn’t there. Yes, Buksa was a big part of that success last year and it’s unfair to ask Vrioni to have that level of impact right away, but New England still has reigning MVP Carles Gil pulling the strings and they should be much more potent on offense then they have been.

For the Revs to get into the playoffs, they need to be more aggressive in the counter-attack phase of the game. Too often the Revs choose to slow the game down and wait for numbers instead of creating their own advantage or mismatch. Dylan Borrero should help with this as he takes over the Tajon Buchanan role of beating everyone in a 1v1 situation. But the Revs were always in a weird spot for the 2022 regular season, with the early focus on a CCL run derailed by injuries, New England found themselves in a hole early and I don’t think they expected 10th place in the East. The Revs do have a game in hand on several teams above them and a win in said game in hand would get them above the playoff line, but in order for them to be a threat in the postseason they’ll need a massive improvement to their form and scoring because 5 goals in as many games isn’t going to get it done.