After a three-game road trip and an international break, Toronto FC are finally returning to their house on Lakeshore.
With Sebastian Giovinco confirmed as fit for Friday’s clash with Sporting Kansas City, the Reds will try to maintain their unbeaten record in front of a packed house at BMO Field.
Current weather forecasts have Friday being a chilly, wet affair, with a projected temperature of 4 degrees and an 80% chance of rain at kick-off.
Sporting KC has an identical record to Toronto and the two clubs sit fifth in their respective conferences with a win and two draws. Impressively, they managed to keep FC Dallas off the scoresheet earlier this month, holding the arguable Supporters’ Shield favourites to a 0-0 deadlock.
TFC have struggled against Kansas City over the years, with a pitiful 4-14-5 overall record. In fact, they haven’t beaten them since a 2013 game at the Rogers Centre. That was the year SKC won the MLS Cup, as well.
Sporting and Toronto have gone in opposite directions since then, though. SKC have now bowed out in the knockout round of the playoffs three years in a row.
Still, they remain a very dangerous team, with a lot of recognizable names in their lineup. Up front, Dom Dwyer is an excellent finisher and a perennial scoring threat.
Toronto also can’t ignore the fact that SKC have allowed just one goal in three games. The left-sided pair of Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic play off each other excellently, and could be a serious problem for the likes of Steven Beitashour.
Unfortunately, we may not get to see a full-strength SKC lineup this week. Right-back Graham Zusi played the full 90 minutes of the USA’s game against Panama on Tuesday and may not start, while Benny Feilhaber, arguably SKC’s best player, picked up a thigh strain in training earlier this week and is out. Midfielder Roger Espinoza, too, played a full game for Honduras on Tuesday.
It would be a shame for Sporting to be missing such key pieces on Friday, especially because they don’t have much to offer offensively without Feilhaber.
Of course, TFC will also be affected by Tuesday’s CONCACAF internationals. Both Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore played for the USMNT (Bradley for 90 minutes and Altidore for 83) against Armando Cooper (90) and Panama.
Bradley is something of a freak of nature, and provided he’s healthy he should still be fit to start on Friday. He’s also probably the hardest player for TFC to replace, especially as Benoit Cheyrou’s status is unclear after spending time away from training for personal reasons.
Altidore and Cooper, on the other hand, might start on the bench, especially with Giovinco ready to return and Victor Vazquez getting closer to full fitness.
Greg Vanney’s lineup is becoming more difficult to predict as the weeks go on. Tosaint Ricketts seems the obvious choice to start with Giovinco, although the two haven’t connected particularly well in the past. Vanney could get a little more creative as a result.
Jonathan Osorio and Vazquez will probably make up the centre of midfield, and Justin Morrow has an opportunity to make a lot of noise over on the left wing, especially if Zusi is not there to stop him.
Could this be the game that Chris Mavinga finally gets his first start in the back three?
In goal, it seems like we’re back where we were last summer, with both Clint Irwin and Alex Bono candidates to start. Vanney says he’s picked a first-choice keeper in his mind, but both seem like legitimate options every single game.
With a three-week rest behind him, Giovinco is certainly due for a big performance. The pitch is reportedly in good condition, although it might be a bit colder than he likes it on Friday. Nonetheless, TFC’s star striker could do with a goal.
Last year, Sporting KC were a pitiful road team, banking just 14 points from away games with a 3-9-5 record. BMO Field is not an easy place to play, especially in a home opener when it’s bound to be packed.
If Giovinco can find his form, or if Altidore can come into the game late and break down SKC’s formidable defence, then the Reds could go marching on to victory.