For the first time in MLS, Minnesota United will travel to Canada this weekend to play the red-hot Toronto FC at BMO Field. The home team is returning to their own building after a pair of excellent away results, winning in Seattle and Columbus.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a team in better form than TFC anywhere, with nobody in MLS even close to their current five-game winning streak. Victor Vazquez leads the league with eight assists and Sebastian Giovinco’s 43 shots put him well above any other player.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on against this unknown enemy.
1. Dictate the game
In the two road games, TFC primarily sat back and allowed the home team to command possession, looking for opportunities to counter-attack. In Columbus, they had the ball 49% of the time, and in Seattle just 36%. Against Minnesota, though, the Reds will have ample opportunity to control the pace of the game.
The Loons are in the bottom half of MLS with just 48.7% average possession, and don’t typically see much of the ball in the attacking third. So this week, TFC can open things up a little in midfield and try to break through their defence rather than bunker down and focus on defending. That’s probably a good thing for this particular fixture, with the likelihood that Michael Bradley gets the day off.
The captain has played a lot of difficult minutes and covered a lot of ground in the last two weeks, so this game is a prime opportunity to give him a break. TFC can move things a little faster, and while they’ll certainly miss his passing, they can probably survive without his defensive contribution in this one.
2. Canadian content
If TFC were a radio station, they might actually pass muster this week for showcasing enough Canadian talent. Unfortunately it looks like Jonathan Osorio will be sidelined on Saturday, but Tosaint Ricketts, Raheem Edwards, Jay Chapman and even Jordan Hamilton could all play a role in this game.
Edwards has quickly emerged as one of the brightest spots in the future of Canadian soccer, making a huge impact in all of his appearances for TFC this season. Even though he only played a few minutes at the end of Wednesday’s game, he might’ve been the man of the match for his involvement in both goals. He must be becoming one of the first names on Vanney’s team sheet.
One of Ricketts or Hamilton will probably start next to Giovinco at forward. In my lineup prediction I picked Ricketts, since his brace at Mapfre Stadium makes it hard not to give him the spot. The more I think about it, though, it might make more sense to give Hamilton a shot. In limited appearances, he’s arguably played off Giovinco better than Ricketts has. Minnesota is also by far the worst team in MLS when it comes to aerial duels, and the 6’1” Hamilton could cause trouble in the box.
3. Not to be underestimated
It can’t be denied that Minnesota started the season terribly. They’ve bounced back though, working their way up to seventh in the Western Conference. The Loons still have the league’s worst goal differential, but that can largely be attributed to the 5-1 and 6-1 losses to Portland and Atlanta to begin their first MLS campaign.
Minnesota won 2-0 last weekend against Sporting Kansas City, a team that TFC failed to score against. Although they had just 34% possession and a 38% success rate in the air, some well-placed crosses from Miguel Ibarra helped them capitalize on their chances. The Loons relied largely on the long ball against SKC, so they’ll likely keep Nick Hagglund and the other TFC defenders on their toes.
Any team that wins five games on the trot will start to develop a target on their back, and TFC are no different right now. Pretty much everyone will be counting out Minnesota this weekend, so they’d probably love nothing more than to spoil the party and show MLS that they’re here to play.