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Toronto FC vs. D.C. United: What to watch out for

Last-place D.C. come to Toronto as the Reds seek a bounceback win.

MLS: Canadian Championship-Ottawa Fury FC at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

After the two-week break, Toronto FC will return to the pitch on Saturday night as Ben Olsen’s D.C. United come to BMO Field. The Reds still sit on top of the MLS standings, with a one-point lead over the Chicago Fire. They’ll be hoping to add to that cushion, with the Fire playing in New England at the same time.

There are few better opponents in MLS for a bounceback win than United. Toronto need to get back in form after a tough loss to the Revs, and now is their chance. D.C. sit last in the Eastern Conference on 15 points, with just two road wins all season. They had a scare this week in the U.S. Open Cup, where they went down 1-0 against amateur team Christos FC, but turned it around and won 4-1.

D.C. have a fair few injury concerns too, with Rob Vincent, Nick DeLeon, Sean Franklin, and Patrick Mullins all out long-term. That said, TFC’s last home loss (in the regular season) came against Olsen’s team last October.

Here are three things to look out for this weekend as TFC look to get back in the wins column.

1. Be strong in the air

MLS: Toronto FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

D.C.’s average height is four centimetres taller than TFC’s. It’ll be important for Toronto’s back three, especially Eriq Zavaleta and Chris Mavinga, to command their space in the 18-yard box, because without Nick Hagglund that’s an area where the Reds can be exposed. D.C. like to play crosses and long balls toward the box, so TFC will need to keep an eye on how much space they give Sebastien Le Toux and Lamar Neagle.

The same holds true at the other end of the pitch; players like Victor Vazquez like putting it into the air over the defenders, so Jozy Altidore will need to be stronger than Bobby Boswell or Kofi Opare, both of whom are a couple of inches taller than him.

2. Play aggressively

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

TFC will probably be a little freer to pursue scoring chances this weekend than they were in other games. D.C. have scored just once in their last six games, and will probably struggle in attack. As such, the Reds can sacrifice some caution for the sake of aggression. D.C. are prone to wandering offside, so TFC can certainly creep upfield.

United are the worst possession team in the Eastern Conference, averaging about 45.5% per game. Just as they did against Minnesota and Columbus, TFC will probably dictate the pace of this one. Look for Michael Bradley to potentially play a little higher up the field than he would against a more offensively dangerous team, as much of the game will surely take place in the visitors’ end.

Toronto’s back three do need to be wary of the counter-attack, but Marky Delgado, Zavaleta and Mavinga can keep tabs on that.

3. Finish chances

MLS: Canadian Championship-Ottawa Fury FC at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Since TFC are likely to control the game, they're likely to have the lion’s share of the chances on goal - any team with Victor Vazquez in the lineup is going to have a few. The Reds did a magnificent job of it against Columbus, and it's important that they continue that here. They did have their chances in New England (11 shots, to be exact), but couldn't capitalize on anything, even with Sebastian Giovinco on the pitch. Justin Morrow hit the woodwork, but that's about as close as they came.

A multi-goal performance would be the perfect way to bounce back from that loss. It is also an excellent opportunity for Giovinco to get back into form after a long absence.