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Predicting Toronto FC’s lineup against the New York Red Bulls

Otherwise known as “TFC Tries to Clinch the Shield, Part 2: The Two Tower(ing forward)s”.

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

Please excuse any spelling errors below; I’m trying to type while dodging falling pieces of the sky.

Joking aside, despite the last week being Toronto FC’s worst in well over a calendar year, things are still fairly rosy for the top team in MLS. A win this weekend against the New York Red Bulls, or some favourable results elsewhere, and the Reds would clinch the first Supporters’ Shield in club history.

It’s obviously in TFC’s best interests to wrap things up on Saturday; it’s hardly something they want to come down to the wire in very tough games against the Montreal Impact and Atlanta United.

As for who we could see in Toronto’s lineup this weekend, there are several interesting options to consider. Apparently both Nick Hagglund and Benoit Cheyrou could be involved at BMO Field, although I doubt either would start. Up front, Jozy Altidore will return but Sebastian Giovinco will not.

Anyway, let’s play the guessing game.

Goalkeeper

Alex Bono

This is Bono’s job from here on out; frankly, barring injury I would be surprised if Clint Irwin plays for TFC again this season (if ever – it seems unlikely he’d stick around after this year, surely finding a starting job elsewhere instead).

Defence

Chris Mavinga, Drew Moor, Eriq Zavaleta

If Hagglund makes the bench, I think he’ll probably come in for someone around the 65th minute or so. I’m expecting a pretty strong lineup, so the starting back three will likely be this, the strongest trio of centre-backs available at the moment. Zavaleta and Mavinga sat out against New England last weekend and with Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour in the back three, TFC’s defence wasn’t as mobile as it usually is.

Midfield

Justin Morrow, Victor Vazquez, Michael Bradley, Marky Delgado, Nicolas Hasler

I was pretty conflicted over whether Morrow or Raheem Edwards should start. Edwards had a much better game last weekend against the Revs, although Morrow was in the back three, where he can’t get up in the attack as much as he typically likes. It’s very possible Edwards gets in here, but since Morrow is the safer option, and he’ll likely get the playoff starts, I think he slots in.

As for the other side, frankly Hasler has impressed me more than Steven Beitashour in his last few appearances. He provides a little more pace and creativity moving forward, which might be useful against the Red Bulls. At this point, in a do-or-die game I’d probably still go with Beita, but Hasler is certainly making a case for himself.

Vazquez should move back in to his normal role in the midfield triangle and his comfortable partnership with Delgado. Jonathan Osorio has done some good work recently, but probably not enough to warrant replacing Delgado.

I’d never predict a night off for Bradley, regardless of how much he might need one. For the first time all season, he actually has looked a little tired the past couple games. If Cheyrou is indeed ready, it might be helpful for him to at the very least relieve Bradley of 30 minutes or so.

Forward

Jozy Altidore, Tosaint Ricketts

I’m not sure how wishful this thinking is, but it would be a huge boost to TFC if Altidore were to start this weekend. One major problem for the Reds in New England was impotence in front of goal; TFC won the possession battle 58%-42% at Gillette Stadium, but managed just five shots to New England’s 13. Jozy’s presence in the box could help out a lot in that respect.

As for Ricketts, he remains one of the only TFC players in decent form at the moment. He was effectively the only player to show up for the Montreal game and although he wasn’t quite as good against the Revs, he’s definitely earned another start. Plus, his inclusion alongside Altidore will allow Toronto to run with their more traditional 3-5-2 rather than having Vazquez or Osorio playing just off the lone striker.