1. To Ottawa to begin the campaign to the first piece of silverware Toronto FC can win this season and qualify (again) for the Champions League. But with the Columbus Crew waiting on Friday night and against USL opposition, who plays?
Last year’s semi-final, first-leg lineup, against an MLS club in the Montreal Impact, looked like this:
Irwin; Beitashour, Zavaleta, Hagglund, Morgan; Cheyrou; Delgado, Lovitz; Osorio; Babouli, Hamilton.
(I think it was the diamond but it could have been 4-3-3.)
This time last year only really Clint Irwin and Steven Beitashour were in the Reds’ best XI of that group, with Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado featuring fairly regularly.
This year, I think we can expect Irwin to get the start in goal - seeing as Alex Bono appears to be the No. 1 for the time being - and Benoit Cheyrou to give Michael Bradley a break, as he did in 2016, in midfield. From there, it’s basically guesswork.
Greg Vanney has given Beitashour a rest - and someone else a chance to impress - whenever possible this season due to the lack of depth at right-back, so perhaps we’ll see Oyvind Alseth make his first-team debut there. On the left, Ashtone Morgan came through 45 and then 60 minutes unscathed with TFC II, so is he a possibility? Maybe; though Raheem Edwards only came off the bench against the New York Red Bulls, you’ve got to think they’ll want to start him on Friday.
The rest of the side will likely be more MLS than USL-oriented to ensure TFC are comfortable favourites and this is not simply a rematch of the 0-0 draw between the Fury and TFC II earlier this season. Jason Hernandez would seem likely at centre-back, as would Armando Cooper and Jay Chapman in midfield.
Given he is suspended for Friday’s match, does Jozy Altidore go again up front? The alternative would be to play Jordan Hamilton - who you’ve got to think will start one way or another - alone with someone like Chapman in support, because Tosaint Ricketts will surely be taken out due to the absences of Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco versus the Crew.
Assuming he doesn’t play in the second leg, Jozy would be getting 15 days’ rest if he doesn’t feature on Tuesday; would cutting that down to 10 greatly affect his ability to recharge? The concern would probably be more to do with whether or not he has entered the ‘red zone’ as far as fatigue-related injuries are concerned than the length of the break he has coming up.
2. John Molinaro touched on an interesting question after the Red Bulls match: Can Justin Morrow and Raheem Edwards play together in the same XI?
The answer is yes, of course, with Morrow at centre-back and Edwards on the wing. We know that works, particularly when TFC are looking for a goal. The more pertinent question is this: What would happen if Vanney had to pick a team for the MLS Cup final tomorrow with all of his players at his disposable?
Getting both Morrow and Edwards in then would mean dropping either Eriq Zavaleta or Nick Hagglund from his preferred back three. As Molinaro notes, that may even become a dilemma before Hagglund returns due to the improved play of Chris Mavinga.
I’ve said a couple of times that I don’t think we should get into the habit of seeing rotation for rotation’s sake as a good thing; it was necessary during the ridiculous stretch of games Toronto faced this month, but consistency and rhythm is always to be preferred when possible.
That said, I would make an exception to that rule here. Edwards is young and facing his first full season at this level, and the last thing you want is for him to burn out before October. We should also not forget, as he has filled in so admirably at centre-back, that Morrow is a damn good wing-back who had two goals in his first four games this season.
My non-answer, then, is to keep spinning the wheel depending on situation; Mavinga-Morrow is the more defensive look, and Morrow-Edwards the more aggressive one. In five months, perhaps we’ll have a better idea of what the objectively best combination looks like, or perhaps we won’t.
3. The top chance creators in MLS so far this season:
31: Vazquez, Feilhaber, Medunjanin
30: Lodeiro, Nguyen
From open play only:
22: Villa, Zusi
21: Dempsey, Feilhaber, Meram
20: Alex, Vazquez, Hyka
How about the same stats per 90 minutes of play for players with a minimum of 500 minutes logged?
1. Vazquez (3.47)
2. Kljestan (3.37)
3. Feilhaber (3.09)
4. Nguyen (2.82)
5. Hyka (2.8)
Open play only:
1. Vazquez (2.24)
2. Villa (2.16)
3. Bernier (2.15)
=4. Feilhaber (2.09)
=4. Dempsey (2.09)
Toronto have found themselves, by every measure, an elite playmaker. They had one big offseason need and they’ve hit it out of the park.