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Mailbag: What is Toronto FC’s Achilles’ heel?

An MLS Cup final-themed edition of the WTR mailbag.

Columbus Crew SC v Toronto FC - Eastern Conference Finals - Leg 2 Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

It’s the biggest week of the year for Toronto FC supporters, and the Waking the Red mailbag is back to answer your questions in the lead up to Saturday’s MLS Cup final. As expected, all of the questions this week revolve around the game.

This week we name the Toronto player we think could finally beat Stefan Frei, identify the Reds’ Achilles’ heel and predict the final result.

Hector asks: WTR, in your opinion, what is Toronto FC’s Achilles heel?

Is this question coming out of the Seattle Sounders camp? Because if so, I refuse to answer - mostly because it is the laziest scouting I have ever seen.

Okay, fine, I’ll answer, because that is kind of the point of this whole thing. I don’t think Toronto FC has necessarily shown a consistent Achilles’ heel this season. There has been no real constant thread among their losses this year other than maybe missing players, which shouldn’t be a problem on Saturday (*infinitely knocks wood*).

A lot of people have talked about the New York second leg, and how the Red Bulls were able to use Toronto’s temperament against them. But I think that was a unique scenario, where TFC were already frustrated because of how the calls had gone against them. If Seattle tries this it will probably only end up hurting them.

The one place where I could see Toronto coming up short against Seattle is offensively. Sebastian Giovinco was marked out of the game in last year’s MLS Cup final before going off injured. Jozy Altidore is playing hurt this year, and the further he is from 100% the less lethal he becomes.

If Toronto aren’t dangerous going forward, it opens them up for attacks the other way. You are going to get tired of hearing this in the lead up to this match, but that’s only because it is true: the Sounders aren’t the same team they were last time. They are far more dangerous going forward and could really hurt Toronto.

John asks: Do we have someone who can finally break Stefan Frei, and put multiple goals past him?

My money is on Giovinco. I know, that’s like betting on Connecticut in NCAA women’s basketball. But this year we have seen Seba step up in big moments for this club, even if his numbers haven’t exactly been up to his usual ‘best in the league’ standards.

MLS: Eastern Conference Championship-Columbus Crew at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Giovinco wasn’t great against the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference final after returning from a one-game suspension (minus that back-heel). However, historically that’s not surprising. Since joining Toronto, in seven games after returning from an absence the Atomic Ant has managed only a goal and an assist.

In the second games after he has returned from time off? Six goals and three assists. The takeaway here is that it seems to take Giovinco a game to get back into a groove, but he should be back to his old self on Saturday.

Matt asks: How does probably no Ozzie Alonso free up Giovinco in ways he wasn’t in MLS Cup last year?

I am sure Giovinco’s limbs are quite happy about this possibility. But it is a good point: Alonso did a fantastic job of keeping the Atomic Ant almost completely silent in last year’s final. The 32-year-old has played just 16 minutes in the playoffs, however. It is very unlikely he starts the final over Cristian Roldan or Nicolas Lodeiro.

Giovinco is still going to have to deal with Chad Marshall, who remains one of the best centre-backs in Major League Soccer. However, the centre of the park may offer him a little more space if Toronto can catch a couple of Sounders attackers high and overload the midfield.

Columbus basically had a man stuck to him all match, and expect Seattle to do the same. The fact that the man probably won’t be Alsonso though is probably good news for Toronto FC as it could free up their most lethal attacker a little bit.

Thomas asks: If Jozy Altidore is not able to play, how do you line up?

I’m going to defer to Jozy on this, who said right away after the injury: “It doesn’t matter what the ankle [injury] is, you’re not taking [the MLS Cup final] away from me.” I would put it at about 90% that Altidore starts on Saturday, and nearly 100% that he plays in some capacity.

With that being said, the ankle injury he suffered against Columbus did once again keep him out of training today (though Greg Vanney insisted that was planned). He worked on his own for a bit, and is expected back tomorrow. I think it is pretty likely that we are going to see Tosaint Ricketts at some point in the MLS Cup final.

MLS: Eastern Conference Championship-Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

If Altidore can’t start, I would do for a one-for-one swap and put in Ricketts. It keeps everyone else comfortable with their roles, and he is the only other TFC attacker with postseason experience and goals.

It didn’t go well for Ricketts against Columbus in the first leg, but he was very isolated up top and has never been a great lone striker. If he is called upon in partnership with Giovinco, expect a much better performance from the Canadian.

But Saturday is Jozy’s game.

Finally, John asks: “What is your prediction for how this is all going to go down?

Ah, yes, what it all comes down to in the end. I hate predictions, both because I am bad at them and ultimately they don’t matter very much. I also feel as though this match in particular is very difficult to predict because of the two sides who contest it, and their different roads to the final.

With that being said, Toronto has worked their entire year for this moment, and I can’t see Seattle taking it away from them. After every triumph during this record-breaking season, Toronto has remained focused on ‘the big one’.

They have now limped through two playoff rounds where they needed a number of bounces to go their way. I think in the final we see a side motivated to play the game on their terms and ready and able to do everything they need to in order to lift that trophy.

Mostly, I’m just hoping it is decided before penalty kicks.