Finally, the day of Toronto FC’s comeback to MLS action is here.
The Reds open their new season at Real Salt Lake hoping for a result similar to that which they achieved this time last year, when they recorded a 2-0 victory away to the New York Red Bulls on the back of a smart counter-attacking performance.
Plenty has changed since then and though seven of the players in the starting lineup that day are likely to be in Greg Vanney’s team again in Utah, Toronto look a significantly stronger proposition. Whereas the Red Bulls win was a turn up for the books against an established Eastern Conference force, today the beaten MLS Cup finalists will expect to take three points.
It’s not always that simple, of course, but now Toronto themselves are regarded as their conference’s major power. At Rio Tinto Stadium, the challenge is to take the first step on a long road to proving the preseason predictions accurate.
Chapman & Hamilton left out
According to Kurtis Larson of the Sun, Jay Chapman and Jordan Hamilton are among those who have been left out of the matchday squad in Salt Lake City, with the club listing Chris Mavinga and Ashtone Morgan as the only forced absentees.
Hamilton, Babouli, Mavinga, Camargo, Chapman, Morgan out this weekend, either through injury or selection. #TFCLive— Kurtis Larson (@KurtLarSUN) March 3, 2017
That’s not totally surprising, as Tosaint Ricketts will take up his usual role of striker-off-the-bench and Victor Vazquez is also expected to make an appearance. It does speak, however, to the difficulty those young players are going to have getting games when (nearly) everyone is healthy.
If Larson’s list is comprehensive, it would fit that Alex Bono, Benoit Cheyrou, Marky Delgado, Tsubasa Endoh, Raheem Edwards, Ricketts and Vazquez are the substitutes. But while Brandon Aubrey will probably spend most of the year with TFC II, it would be a little surprising if they hadn’t kept him around for now as a fourth centre-back and he could also be in contention.
RSL’s defensive problems mount
Jeff Cassar is without Justen Glad, one of the better young centre-backs in MLS, due to the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship and has now lost ex-TFC defender Aaron Maund as well. David Horst is expected to partner Chris Schuler in central defence as a result - a sizeable combination but one that could lack the speed to deal with the Reds’ attack.
Also in contention are Chris Wingert, who normally plays left-back, and 2017 second-round pick Justin Schmidt, who has impressed Cassar during preseason. With first-choice left-back Demar Phillips also hurt, however, Wingert will probably be needed in his normal position.
With Tony Beltran the expected right-back, RSL have an experienced group but not necessarily a top-drawer or particularly mobile one. TFC will want to hit Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco early and often.
Rusnak set for debut
While RSL may be shaky at the back, they have talent up front. The burden of replacing Javier Morales has been placed on the young shoulders of Slovakian midfielder Albert Rusnak, who has signed from Groningen. Toronto fans, of course, know all about Joao Plata and up front, Yura Movsisyan is back after an up-and-down spell in Russia.
The key for TFC will be cutting out the hosts’ attacks at source. With the aforementioned absences and Kyle Beckerman’s rustiness after a preseason plagued by injury, the Reds’ best chance of winning this game is preventing Beckerman and Sunny from settling into a rhythm in their 4-2-3-1 formation.
Real Salt Lake: Rimando; Beltran, Horst, Schuler, Wingert; Beckerman, Sunny; Allen, Rusnak, Plata; Movsisyan.
Toronto: Irwin; Zavaleta, Moor, Hagglund; Beitashour, Cooper, Bradley, Osorio, Morrow; Altidore, Giovinco.
Subs: Bono, Cheyrou, Delgado, Endoh, Edwards, Vazquez, Ricketts.
How to watch
Venue: Rio Tinto Stadium
Kick-off: 4.30pm ET
SB Nation opposition blog: RSL Soapbox
TV: TSN 4
Radio: TSN 1050
Streaming: TSN Go