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Toronto FC vs. Colorado Rapids: What to watch for

Bullet points on a home date with the basement-dwelling Rapids.

MLS: Toronto FC at New York City FC Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto FC will have a great opportunity to strengthen their grip on first place this weekend, with the Chicago Fire and New York City FC squaring off against each other. One (or both) of the two biggest threats to TFC’s Supporters’ Shield campaign could drop points, while the Reds are blessed with a home date against the lowly Colorado Rapids.

Colorado sits 10th in the Western Conference with 19 points, and just 19 goals this season. The Rapids don’t have a single point away from home yet, with an 0-7 road record. Dominique Badji is their leading scorer with five goals, and he’s likely to start up top for them alongside Kevin Doyle.

TFC lost 1-0 in their only game against the Rapids last season, at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Colorado had a much more successful season in 2016, finishing second in the Western Conference and losing to Seattle in the conference finals.

Here are a few things for TFC to keep an eye on tonight.

1. Don’t get frustrated

Last time TFC played a cellar-dwelling team at home, about a month ago against D.C. United, some early missed chances led to the players looking extremely frustrated toward the end of the first half. The Reds did manage to get back on track later in the game and won 2-0, but it’s important that TFC understands that even the worst teams can be stingy.

Colorado’s problem this year has been attacking, not defending. Their 27 goals against actually isn’t too bad. Their back line and midfield, led by Micheal Azira, will definitely bunker down in their own half and look to drive TFC’s forwards nuts.

Victor Vazquez will be key here. One of the things he does best is break down defences, so it’ll be his job to find a way through in order to feed Jordan Hamilton up top.

2. Be strong in the box

When the Rapids do attack, it’s usually quite predictable. They like to get the ball wide and throw in a cross toward Doyle or Badji. Colorado is joint-sixth in MLS with 17 crosses per game.

So, it’s the perfect time for Nick Hagglund to make his return to TFC’s lineup. The tall centre-back is one of the league’s best at picking balls out of the air inside the 18-yard box. If he does play tonight, that’ll probably be his main role against Colorado.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

As long as TFC’s defenders stay on top of their assignments in the box, and take away all the space, they should be able to deal with the Rapids’ main attacking threat.

3. Channeling Greg Vanney

After his sending off in New York, TFC will be without their coach this evening. Greg Vanney was sent to the stands for giving the referee a piece of his mind early in the second half.

Robin Fraser will be in charge for the Reds at BMO Field. Vanney will presumably still handle the major tactics and lineup decisions, but they’ll be missing his services during the game. One of the things Vanney does best is tactical substitutions, using them to alter his formation or strategy based on a game situation.

TFC should have a fairly strong bench, with Jonathan Osorio, Armando Cooper and potentially even Sebastian Giovinco possible to come on late in the game. So, we’ll see how well Fraser can integrate his substitutes, especially if TFC can’t break through and score in the first half.