It’s nearly over.
A few weeks ago this would have seemed like a relatively simple conclusion to a tough stretch, with Minnesota struggling badly through their first few weeks of the season and surely powerless to resist a team with Toronto’s attacking force away from home.
The narrative has changed somewhat, however, since the start of April and the laughing stock Loons now have exactly the same number of wins (three) and points (11) as The Best Expansion Team In MLS History, Atlanta United. To be fair, it was hard to blame anyone from drawing distinctly different conclusions about the state of the two clubs when Atlanta demolished Minnesota back on March 12.
Sam Cronin and Marc Burch have helped to tighten up the defence, though, and Minnesota have the not-to-be-underestimated advantage of being so bad early on this season that every team they face expects to beat them, regardless of their improved form since. Sporting Kansas City certainly did, and perhaps committed a few more bodies forward than such a defensively diligent team normally would on the road in their 2-0 defeat at TCF Bank Stadium last weekend.
Toronto will need to be careful not to make the same mistake, because Christian Ramirez has as many goals as Jozy Altidore this season and has proven himself capable of taking the chances the Loons create in the space their opponents leave them. That starts with Greg Vanney, who will surely see this as an opportunity to rest a few more players but must leave enough quality and experience on the field to get the job done without fuss.
The good news is that the number of different combinations and systems Vanney has at his disposal is becoming ridiculous, making rotation decisions much easier. The likes of Benoit Cheyrou, Marky Delgado, Raheem Edwards and Jay Chapman have not only played well individually but changed the complexion of the entire team when they have been inserted into the lineup and afforded Vanney a flexibility most coaches do not enjoy.
There are a few depth players in the squad still yet to feature, meaning the coach has some more auditions to hand out when the time is right. With the Canadian Championship putting midweek games back on the schedule before May is out, that may be sooner rather than later.
TV channel & live stream
TV: CTV (Canada), My29 (Minnesota)
Stream: TSN Go (Canada), MLS Live (out of market)
Radio: TSN 1050 (Toronto), 1500 ESPN (Minnesota)
Drew Moor is not yet ready to return for Toronto despite making his comeback in training, while Ashtone Morgan, Ben Spencer and Mark Pais have been loaned to TFC II and are likely to feature in the second part of the doubleheader. Jonathan Osorio has also been ruled out due to illness but Sebastian Giovinco has trained and will play.
Johan Venegas has travelled with Minnesota despite an apparent falling out with Minnesota coach Adrian Heath this week, with the Costa Rican said to have since cleared the air. Bernardo Anor and Thomas de Villardi are both out but goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth is available despite breaking his nose against Sporting KC.
Toronto: Bono; Hagglund, Hernandez, Mavinga; Delgado, Cooper, Bradley, Cheyrou, Edwards; Ricketts, Giovinco.
Subs: Irwin, Vazquez, Morrow, Beitashour, Chapman, Zavaleta, Altidore.
Minnesota: Shuttleworth; Theisson, Kallman, Calvo, Burch; Cronin, Ibson; Molino, Danladi, Ibarra; Ramirez.
Subs: Alvbage, Davis, Taylor, Warner, Jome, Schuller, Venegas.