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Mailbag: How will Toronto FC set up without Sebastian Giovinco & Jozy Altidore?

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The Reds head to Columbus Tuesday after next.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, apologies for the lack of action on the blog over the past few days. As has become annual tradition, the Toronto winter arrived and I got sick.

Thankfully, we’ve had Mitchell’s coverage of the Canadian women’s national team to fill the gap. They’re in action again tonight against the USA, this time in San Jose.

And then it’s back to Toronto FC and the MLS playoffs... in 10 days’ time, when the Reds visit Columbus for the first leg of the Eastern Conference final.

The way this international break takes the momentum out of the postseason is a problem MLS continues to wrestle with, most notably by tabling the idea of single-game elimination throughout the playoffs instead of the two-legged conference semi-finals and final.

But for now, it’s what we’ve got. Here are your questions of the week answered as we begin to look ahead to the trip to Ohio.

More the latter than the former.

I’d expect to see the lineup (perhaps Beitashour for Hasler aside) we saw against the LA Galaxy back in September in the first leg, with Vazquez playing further upfield than usual, off Tosaint Ricketts, and Jonathan Osorio added to the midfield.

Vazquez will remain the team’s playmaker in the opposition half first and foremost, but there’s no doubt he gets in more goalscoring positions in that role than in his usual midfield slot.

It’s not the worst look away from home, which is probably why there is not widespread panic about Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore’s suspensions.

Columbus haven’t had an answer to Ricketts (or Vazquez, for that matter) in a couple of games already this season. If they push up too high, he kills them with speed. If they drop too deep, he creates all kinds of havoc in the box.

Without wanting to jump the gun too much, from what I’ve heard you can expect the setup we saw in the second leg of the conference semis - with bleachers added to the north end and that weird tent thing to the south - to stay.

The addition of a full tier to the south end last year was more of a Grey Cup than a TFC feature.

Got a couple of people asking about Larin, so we’ll come to him in a minute.

As for TFC? It’s really difficult to get a read on them right now.

At this time of year it’s all about results, and no one cares about good performances if they’re not leading to wins. That said, I thought they were better in the Atlanta United game and the first leg against the Red Bulls than they had been in the wins over New York and Montreal despite the fact that they had two Giovinco free-kicks to thank for turning one point (no points in the playoffs, but you get my drift) into four.

So that seemed like progress to me, even if it wasn’t totally being rewarded and there were some defensive miscues to be a little concerned about. I was pretty bullish ahead of the second leg against the Red Bulls as a result and thought we might get the kind of statement win everyone was hoping for.

Then that happened.

As I wrote about afterwards, I was totally baffled by what I saw. TFC knew what exactly what the Red Bulls were going to try to do... and then walked straight into the trap anyway on a pretence of standing up for themselves and not being pushed around.

The good news is that I don’t expect the Columbus tie to be like that at all; the Crew will try to play their football wherever they go. If they get it wrong, they can be exposed but they are getting it right on a regular basis nowadays and were brilliant against Atlanta in the knockout round.

Should TFC successfully navigate that, Seattle or Houston could take a leaf out of the Red Bulls’ book in the final - and Toronto will need to respond in a much, much better way.

For those who haven’t heard, Larin wants out of Orlando City.

I have no idea where he’ll end up and I don’t think anyone does at the minute. If offers were here, there and everywhere, he wouldn’t have to tell the Orlando Sentinel that it’s time to go.

So his agent is probably working pretty hard right now to get something in place for January.

Here’s how I’d categorize the clubs he’s been linked with:

The sink-or-swim option: Besiktas, who are probably the best team to have been credited with interest in Larin. He’d either knuckle down here, earn his minutes and become a far better player for it or flop, basically. I’d probably say it’s a little too high risk - they’re a really good team, and unbeaten through four games in the Champions League this season - if Atiba Hutchinson wasn’t there to help him settle.

The safe option: Celtic, and maybe Anderlecht to a slightly lesser extent. Larin is good enough to score goals in the Scottish Premiership and would get his chance to take a bite at Europe at the same time, all while enjoying Brendan Rodgers’ attacking style of football. This would work better - and probably only happens - if Moussa Dembele is sold, though.

The short-term gain, long-term pain option: Everton. I really do not see this working. Larin isn’t ready for the Premier League, which has been a brutal place for MLSers who go too early. But the salary would be nice, at least.

There are a couple of interesting potential kinks in this, though.

The first is that MLS is apparently considering increasing the amount of allocation money given to clubs who sell players outside of MLS. Currently, the maximum clubs can receive is $650,000 per transfer, even if they sell a player for millions. If that’s in the works, Orlando surely won’t sell Larin before it’s implemented.

The second is the departure of Kaka. What does Larin say if Orlando put a fat DP contract in front of him? Could a substantial pay rise with a release clause that can be activated later, when the aforementioned rule changes have been put into effect, suit everyone?

We’ll have full articles on a few of those questions at one point or another, so I’m going to quickfire them.

1. See above.

2. I’d be surprised to see Irwin, Cooper or Morgan back. Hernandez may or may not re-up for a year. Cheyrou will decide whether to keep going or not. Can’t see Endoh, Aubrey or Camargo cracking the first team. Beitashour may be at risk due to his cap number and Hasler’s impact, even if they’d like to keep him in an ideal world. I expect they’ll figure a deal out to avoid any major losses in the expansion draft.

3. This might be the single most interesting question around the future of the team and I can’t quickfire it, sorry. We’ll get to it.

4. I honestly thought Penso was doing okay until he essentially scratched two good goals off near the end (and the Titanic was great before it hit the iceberg, I know).

I think part of the frustration right now lies in the fact that Penso could have held on to his whistle on the Osorio ‘goal’, taken it upstairs and got the right call. When the means are there to correct something and it doesn’t happen, that’s infuriating if you’re in the stands - I get it.

But that’s not how the referees have been told to use VAR. It’s insurance, not a way to get out of making a decision, and they’re not supposed to be holding off so they can fall back on it.

The Vazquez one was inexplicable, though - especially because, if you watch the replay back, Penso was happy to let him take it quickly until it ended up in the back of the net.

If you’ve got a question you’d like to ask or want to chip in on any of the topics discussed above, let us know below the line.