Contrary to what the freezing rain that hit Toronto on Thursday evening might suggest, spring is here and Toronto FC are back at BMO Field for their opening home game of the new MLS season.
The Reds face what is probably their stiffest test yet in an unbeaten Sporting Kansas City side, with Peter Vermes’ two-time MLS Cup champions matching the Reds’ record of one win and two draws through their opening three games.
SKC played two of their matches on home turf, however, while Toronto started their season with a three-game road trip. TFC will be slight favourites to beat a defensively stout team that has not always been able to convert the chances it creates.
Giovinco searching for first goal
Sebastian Giovinco is fully fit after a leg contusion and will attempt to notch his first goal of 2017 against a defence led by USA veteran Matt Besler. The Italian has had a frustrating year so far, missing a penalty in the season opener at Real Salt Lake and lasting a half against the Philadelphia Union before sustaining the injury in a collision with Oguchi Onyewu.
It’s far too early to be concerned about the form of the best player in MLS over the past two seasons, though, and not the first time in his career Giovinco has gone through a quieter spell. He tends to end them with a statement performance and multiple goals.
SKC solid at the back
Two of Sporting KC’s games so far have been 0-0 draws, and that is nothing new for them. Besler is at the centre of a tried and tested group that has had a new dimension added to it this year in the conversion of Graham Zusi to right-back.
That position is probably a better fit for Zusi at this stage of his career and has given Vermes the chance to create a more varied, youthful attack, with Guinea-Bissau winger Gerso signing from Portuguese club Belenenses as a designated player. It’s still early days as far as judging that acquisition and the unit as a whole goes.
Doubts over international players
We may not get to see Zusi, however, after he featured for the USA against Panama. Roger Espinoza also played for Honduras in midweek and on the Toronto side, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Armando Cooper all started.
You’d expect to see Bradley and probably Altidore from the start but, having played well together in the closing stages of the Vancouver Whitecaps game, Jonathan Osorio and Victor Vazquez may have left Cooper on the bench anyway. There’s also a chance Chris Mavinga could make his first start at the back.
Sporting KC are missing another key man in midfield playmaker Benny Feilhaber, who has a thigh injury.
Toronto FC: Irwin; Zavaleta, Moor, Hagglund; Beitashour, Osorio, Bradley, Vazquez, Edwards; Ricketts, Giovinco.
Sporting KC: Melia; Zusi, Opara, Besler, Sinovic; Espinoza, Ilie, Medranda; Gerso, Dwyer, Saad.
How to watch
Venue: BMO Field
Kick-off: 7.30pm ET
SB Nation opposition blog: The Blue Testament
Radio: TSN 1050
Streaming: TSN Go