At this early stage in the season, Houston already look a much-improved team having finished last in the Western Conference in 2016. They’re 4-2-1 so far, and sit third in their conference with 13 points.
Here are three things to watch out for in this week’s match at BMO Field.
1. Striker battle
Sebastian Giovinco finally put in the type of performance we’ve come to expect last weekend, scoring a glorious brace against the Chicago Fire. He was named MLS Player of the Week for it and it seems the Atomic Ant may be returning to form. TFC do well when Giovinco is producing, so hopefully last Friday’s game was a sign of good things to come.
As they continue to get used to each other, Giovinco’s and Jozy Altidore’s chemistry with Victor Vazquez will only get better. Vazquez showed some excellent link-up ability against Chicago, and it seems like he may well be the player TFC need to serve the forwards.
Giovinco’s opposite number this week, Erick Torres, will be Houston’s answer to TFC’s striking power. Torres has started this season red hot, leading MLS with seven goals. The Dynamo front three of Torres, Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto has provided 13 of their team’s 15 goals, with Houston currently ranking as the second-highest-scoring team in MLS.
Both teams have considerable attacking power, so we could be in for another high-scoring affair here.
2. Counter attack
Houston are not a possession-minded team, controlling the ball about 45% of the time on average. Instead, they’ll likely look to long balls, through balls and the counter-attack for chances and goals.
That’s not necessarily a good thing for TFC, who have struggled in the past with defending against the counter (think Montreal Impact). The Reds have conceded several times this season from through balls between the back three, as well, where they’ll be especially exposed this week as Drew Moor remains sidelined.
The Reds are pretty good at defending long balls and picking off passes, both of which will be important against Houston. Michael Bradley played well against Chicago and TFC will need him in top form again to break up counters as quickly as possible before the back line can be threatened too much.
3. Defending the fortress
There’s no Leafs game this week, so hopefully BMO Field will be relatively full. TFC have struggled to make their home a true fortress in recent years; their record has typically been good, but not great. The Reds seem to rarely lose at BMO, but still tend to drop a lot of points.
Last year, they were 8-3-6 at home, and so far this year they’re 1-0-2. This matchup should be one where TFC protect their territory against a bad road team. Houston may have 13 points this season, but not a single one of them has come away from BBVA Compass Stadium. Being a southern team, the Dynamo have only played on the road twice early in the 2017 season, and lost both times.
If Toronto want to be talked about as a strong home team and protect BMO Field as their own, taking all three points here would be a good place to start.