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Giovinco & Altidore absences a chance for Toronto FC to reintroduce depth

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A few players are in need of minutes.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto FC will go to California shorthanded.

That Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco will not be present when the team departs for Saturday night’s match against the LA Galaxy does not come as a surprise. Even if neither striker had complained of muscle tightness last weekend against the San Jose Earthquakes, there is a fairly good chance that at least one of them would not have made the trip anyway.

Greg Vanney left Giovinco, Victor Vazquez, Steven Beitashour and Eriq Zavaleta at home when TFC visited Seattle earlier this season and the premise here is the same: it just isn’t worth putting anyone with a knock or a bit of fatigue through a 10-hour round trip with barely three days to rest before the following game.

Perhaps even more so now that we have reached a point in the year when a two-month muscle injury to a star could put the club’s entire season in jeopardy.

Don’t be surprised, then, if more absences are revealed today and tomorrow.

The top candidates are Vazquez, Chris Mavinga and Marky Delgado, all of whom have not been out of the lineup for a couple of months or more. You can add Justin Morrow to the mix, too; though he did not play a ton while at the Gold Cup, he still did all of the travelling and has only sat out 26 minutes since he got back.

Then there is Michael Bradley. Ideally, Vanney would give him a game off when Benoit Cheyrou is back to fill in after the next international break, but that would mean pushing the captain through three in a week starting Saturday. That would be risky, even for an ironman like Bradley.

This is not just about rest, though, but also the depth players that need to get minutes under their belt between now and the playoffs.

Here’s how often a few names of that type have featured over the past 30 days:

Depth minutes

Player Minutes
Player Minutes
Tosaint Ricketts 45
Jordan Hamilton 0
Raheem Edwards 0
Jay Chapman 11
Armando Cooper 11
Jason Hernandez 22
Clint Irwin 0

Beitashour and Jonathan Osorio have come in as substitutes regularly of late, but few others.

Sure, the reality is that we will not see Jordan Hamilton, Jay Chapman, Jason Hernandez or Clint Irwin in the playoffs unless someone gets injured, but you’d still like to have them ready for that scenario.

Tosaint Ricketts, Raheem Edwards and Armando Cooper, though, could all have more significant parts to play.

It’s been a quiet season for Ricketts, whose three goals on the year all came within the space of three days in May. There is a chance he does not figure as heavily during the coming postseason as the previous one because of Vazquez, who renders the Ricketts-and-Altidore-up-front-and-Giovinco-in-midfield setup redundant. There’s no longer any need to push Giovinco back for extra creativity.

To get Ricketts on, you’re going to have to take one of those three players off - not likely when a playoff game is in the balance - or else you’re too top heavy for all but the most desperate of situations.

That said, we all know what a menace Ricketts can be against a tired defence. There might not be another striker in the league with the same combination of speed and length and the penalty-area chaos he can create was instrumental in the conference semi-final and final last season.

That he was not introduced earlier in the MLS Cup final might count as a rare Vanney misstep during that run.

You want Ricketts ready, whether he ends up on the field much in the end or not, simply because he is capable of giving the team an instant shot in the arm.

The same goes for Edwards and Cooper.

Edwards’ minutes, like Ricketts’, have been reduced indirectly by a player who does not play in his position. Now that Mavinga, a good passer, is a regular in the starting lineup, Toronto are less likely to drop Morrow into the left-sided spot in the back three and get Edwards on the field at wing-back.

MLS: New York City FC at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Cooper, of course, has had a difficult year and simply struggled to earn playing time on merit.

With Giovinco and Altidore out and Delgado, Mavinga and Morrow also candidates for time off, that trio’s way back in could start at the StubHub Center. The balance Vanney will have to achieve is between rotating as required and naming a side that still takes to the field in sync.

What might that look like? Ricketts could well be a lone striker in the 3-5-1-1 shape the Reds have used to good effect lately, with Vazquez - or, if he is rested, Chapman - just off him.

You would then have Bradley, Osorio and either Delgado or Cooper in midfield.

Edwards would seem a likely starter on the basis that he can relieve Morrow or Morrow can relieve Mavinga, opening up the wing-back slot either way.

Beitashour and Nicolas Hasler will split the week on the opposite flank - who plays in LA is a toss-up - and Hernandez will surely come in for Zavaleta at some point but, again, it may or may not be Saturday.

We can probably expect to see Irwin once in the next three, too.