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Preview: No Giovinco but Toronto FC must capitalize on tired Vancouver Whitecaps

The Reds look for their first win of 2017 in an all-Canadian matchup.

MLS: Canadian Championship-Toronto FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Undefeated. Or, for the pessimists, winless.

Either way, Toronto FC have a pair of draws to their name to start 2017. When they head to the west coast this weekend to play their cross-country rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps, they’ll certainly have three points in mind.

The Reds close out their three-game road trip at BC Place on Saturday, and it would be nice to get that first win under their belts before the home opener two weeks later.

They’ll have to do it without Sebastian Giovinco, though, who’s receiving treatment from his doctor in Italy after suffering a leg contusion. That’s a tough loss, but if you have to play a game without Giovinco, this might be the one.

There was always a chance Greg Vanney would rest him anyway; BC Place’s turf field has always been a concern for players like him. With an international break coming up, Giovinco will have a solid three weeks to recover and prepare for the home opener against Sporting Kansas City.

Scouting the opponent

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at San Jose Earthquakes Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

At times like these, TFC are thankful they have a backup striker like Tosaint Ricketts.

The Whitecaps will host TFC on very little rest, having played a CONCACAF Champions League game down in Mexico on Wednesday. A player as speedy as Ricketts could have a field day against a tired defence, and that’s likely to be exactly Toronto’s plan.

Vancouver will also be missing their first-choice keeper, David Ousted, who picked up a ban last weekend when he was sent off against San Jose. Backup Paolo Tornaghi has made two MLS appearances in four seasons as a Whitecap, but did play against TFC last year in the Canadian Championship (a 1-0 win for the Reds).

Even still, Vancouver are no easy matchup and have their eyes on being a contender in the Western Conference this year. On Saturday they’ll be looking to bounce back after a couple tough losses, including last weekend when they blew a 2-0 lead to the Quakes and lost 3-2.

The fact that they went up 2-0 against San Jose in the first place was impressive, and in just 17 minutes of play as well. Ousted’s red card threw the whole team off balance, and gave the Quakes a way back into the match.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at San Jose Earthquakes Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

TFC will have to be wary of the wings in this match, as Vancouver tends to like playing through the flanks with the likes of Kekuta Manneh.

Whitecaps striker Erik Hurtado is a danger as well, with his skill on the ball. Midfielders like former Toronto designated player Matias Laba will be looking to supply him, so the Reds will have to shore up the back line to avoid another goal like Philadelphia’s second last weekend.

Toronto and Vancouver met three times in 2016, the Whitecaps winning 4-3 in MLS play and TFC taking the Canadian Championship final after a 2-2 draw thanks to Will Johnson’s last-minute away goal.

For the first time this season, conditions won’t be a problem due to BC Place’s retractable roof but the turf field may cause problems for players like Victor Vazquez, who isn’t quite used to MLS yet.

Toronto FC lineup notes

MLS: Toronto FC at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

TFC’s lineup for Saturday is much more difficult to predict than it has been in the past, with no word on whether or not Steven Beitashour will be fit.

Assuming he’s not, it seems unlikely that Vanney starts Tsubasa Endoh in the right-wing-back spot again, especially with how important it will be to defend on the wings in this match. He could go with Nick Hagglund or, if he favours a slightly more attacking option, Marky Delgado.

Vazquez played well in Philadelphia, and unless Vanney wants to keep him off the turf there’s no real reason he shouldn’t start again. The other place in midfield could go to either Armando Cooper or Jonathan Osorio.

At the back, this may be the week we finally see Chris Mavinga in the starting XI.

The verdict

I’ve been burned the last two times, so I’m not going to pick TFC as boldly this week. The Reds still should win this game if they feel they deserve to be an elite team. They’re missing their best player, but there’s no better opportunity to bring Ricketts into the fray.

A draw would only be acceptable if Toronto play better than they did in the last two games. Anything scoreless would be cause for concern; if the attack can come together, there will be a lot to be happy about.

Projected starting XI:

Vancouver: Tornaghi; Williams, Waston, Parker, Harvey; Jacobson, Laba; Bolanos, Manneh, Davies; Hurtado.