I don’t think the storyline last week in Ottawa was about Greg Vanney weakening his team or Toronto FC underestimating the Fury.
With no disrespect to Wednesday night’s opponents, every player Vanney picked was good enough to command a place in Ottawa’s squad. With the possible exceptions of Mitchell Taintor and Tsubasa Endoh, two young players who have been seen more often in the USL than MLS this year, they would probably all be starters.
If you were to offer the Fury a Jay Chapman, Jonathan Osorio or Benoit Cheyrou at an affordable price, they would snap them up in a heartbeat.
Toronto’s real problem was twofold.
Firstly, there was an urgency and hunger to the Fury that the Reds just did not match. Ottawa deserve credit and Toronto criticism for that, but it was also partially circumstantial; both teams knew that anything other than a home win would make Toronto overwhelming favourites to progress. The Fury needed to throw caution to the wind and have something to protect at BMO Field to have any chance of progressing to the final of the Canadian Championship, while TFC’s performance gave off the impression that they thought the job was done as soon as they had taken a 1-0 lead.
More important, though, was Toronto’s lack of a coherent game plan. Many of the same players that excelled against the MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders looked lost last week against a club a level below them in the North American soccer pyramid.
Those players have not forgotten how to play football over the course of the past month; the issue was a lack of complementary pieces around them. Vanney nailed his team selection and tactics against Seattle, but in Ottawa his team was overcrowded with midfield playmakers, lacking goal threats for those creators to pass to and bullied aerially by a physical Fury side.
It is not so much that Vanney needs more experience or quality in his lineup to win this game, but that he was missing certain types of players and picked a team that lacked balance as a result.
Fixing that this time, however, is not going to be simple thanks to the absences of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, questionable fitness of Sebastian Giovinco and likely desire on Vanney’s part to rest Justin Morrow, Tosaint Ricketts and Drew Moor for Saturday’s MLS match against the New England Revolution.
The coach may instead field a similar, if slightly tweaked, team to begin with and hope that home advantage and a grass field leads to an improved performance, with Osorio and Jordan Hamilton turning in much brighter displays off the bench against the Columbus Crew on Friday night.
If that doesn’t work, the Reds will at least have Victor Vazquez, Ricketts and perhaps Giovinco to call upon in case of emergency as they seek to book a date with the Montreal Impact in the final.
TV channel & live stream
TV: TSN 1/3/4/5 (Canada)
Stream: TSN Go (Canada)
Radio: TSN 1050 (Toronto), TSN 1200 (Ottawa)
Both clubs are required to field three Canadian players in their starting lineup under Canadian Championship rules.
Toronto will be missing Nick Hagglund (MCL) and Raheem Edwards (suspension), but Sebastian Giovinco could be cleared after a quad injury to play some part. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore are unavailable due to international call-ups but Armando Cooper should be in the squad.
Ottawa are still without Canadian international Carl Haworth due to an ankle injury and Steevan Dos Santos, who is also battling an ankle problem and listed as day-to-day, is not expected to feature.
Toronto: Irwin; Zavaleta, Moor, Mavinga; Endoh, Osorio, Cheyrou, Vazquez, Morrow; Ricketts, Hamilton.
Subs: Bono, Morgan, Giovinco, Chapman, Delgado, Spencer, Beitashour.
Ottawa: Irving; McEleney, Del Campo, Obasi; Edward, Rozeboom, Dixon, Campbell; Williams, Hume, Sito.
Subs: MacRae, Barden, Venter, Bruna, Sanon, Manesio, Mkungilwa.