This one might be a little boring.
Football managers, Greg Vanney included, have a tendency not to like meddling with something that works. After Toronto FC put in their best performance of 2017 against Chicago last weekend, it would be dangerous to try to mix things up.
The Reds have had little change in terms of injuries and unavailable players, with Clint Irwin and Drew Moor likely out another couple of weeks and Chris Mavinga still sidelined with his adductor strain.
Nonetheless, let’s look at how TFC might line up this Friday against Houston Dynamo.
Since the injury to Irwin, Bono has started three games, allowing five goals (with no clean sheets). He’s played well at times, but has also made some unfortunate gaffes that have cost TFC a goal. Bono has established himself as a viable backup option in MLS, but Vanney is probably right in affirming that Irwin is this team’s first-choice keeper.
Justin Morrow, Nick Hagglund, Eriq Zavaleta
Without Moor, you’d think TFC’s back three would struggle. They did, at times, in the Columbus game, but on the whole these three have handled the job pretty well.
Morrow has moved back into a more defensive role and although he’s probably more useful when he can attack down the wing, he’s done well at centre-back. Hagglund was good against Columbus despite the result, and made eight clearances last week against the Fire. Finally, Zavaleta was one of TFC’s best players in their last game, with a pair of tackles and a rare defender’s goal. This back three can certainly continue to get the job done until Moor returns.
Raheem Edwards, Victor Vazquez, Michael Bradley, Marky Delgado, Steven Beitashour
With Morrow moving back into the more defensive position, TFC have employed a purely attack-minded player at left-wing-back in Edwards. The rookie was the most accurate passer on the team last weekend, with a 91% success rate. Injuries have given Edwards an opportunity to seize a starting job and, so far, he has taken full advantage.
On the other side of midfield, Beitashour is slightly more defensive. That job is undeniably his, especially after he played his best game of 2017 last weekend with the freedom that Delgado afforded him. Delgado was a very pleasant surprise in that game, aiding the link between midfield and the strikers more than either Jonathan Osorio or Armando Cooper have done this year. He’s definitely earned another start, as Diego Romero wrote about this week.
As for the other attacking midfielder, Vazquez is really starting to emerge as the player we all hoped he’d be. He’s been linking up with the forwards fantastically, especially now that Delgado gives him more freedom to play high up the field.
Bradley, of course, isn’t going anywhere. TFC rely on him in so many ways at the back of midfield, and it’s unthinkable that Vanney would even consider moving him from that position.
Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore
Once again, this one’s an easy choice. Until the midweek games start in May, TFC will be rolling with this first-choice strike combo unless one of them gets hurt. When Giovinco and Altidore are in form, there probably isn’t a forward duo in all of MLS that can challenge them.
Giovinco had his first breakout game last weekend, bagging a brace and looking incredibly dangerous all evening. Hopefully that was a sign that the Italian is getting back to being the league’s most dangerous scorer.
Altidore has had a better start to the season than Giovinco, although both have three goals to their name. Now all TFC needs is for the two to start playing off one another like they did so effectively last year.
So there you have it. It’s pretty boring, but I really can’t see Vanney making any changes to the starting XI that won last weekend. If Delgado isn’t working out, then Cooper or Osorio can come into the game very quickly, as can Tsubasa Endoh if Edwards struggles. Otherwise, things are likely to be the same as a week ago - at least to begin with.