With all the nervous energy engulfing BMO Field ahead of today’s epic clash, I thought that I would use this space to calm the nerves and offer a few reasons to be truly optimistic.
Toronto FC will score first
Even in the Columbus Crew debacle, Toronto FC started on the front foot. The team created a few decent chances, but just could not finish. At times, the boys played one too many passes instead of going for the direct play. This cannot happen against Tigres, and the Reds know it.
With that said, Jozy Altidore is absolutely critical. He must use his size and strength to post up with his back to the goal. He must draw the attention of Tigres’ defenders and, in so doing, create space for Sebastian Giovinco, Victor Vazquez, and even Justin Morrow. This he will do, and I expect the Reds to shoot from everywhere. Additionally, an increased physical presence from Jozy-Beast should lead to more fouls within thirty yards of goal —Seba’s office.
In Tigres’ most recent Liga MX loss, the striped pussycats were completely thrown off when Pumas scored first. They repeatedly pressed for the equalizer, leaving themselves wide open on the counter. Pumas seized on this and enjoyed at least four legitimate scoring chances, capitalizing on one of them to end the game at 2-0. Expect a similar reaction when Toronto FC scores first.
Toronto FC’s defence
This team is ready defensively. I know that there were a couple of brain farts on Saturday, especially on either side of the break. But that was then. If Toronto plays the 3-5-2, then the central defence will be solid. To combat Tigres’ aerial threat, Nick Hagglund, Drew Moor and Chris Mavinga are my starters at centre-back, with Michael Bradley and Marky Delgado offering support. In Bradley we have one of the best defensive midfielders on the continent. But, Delgado? Yes, Delgado. One poor game against Columbus should not undo the memory of last season’s good work.
The last time TFC faced a highly amped opponent that was fast and creative up the middle, in an all-or-nothing game at BMO, they did a great job defending through the central zones of the pitch. In no way am I suggesting that Seattle is as talented as Tigres. But I am saying that Greg Vanney and his team have demonstrated a knack for making all the right moves to cut off the middle. I expect the same in this match.
Furthermore, with Auro and Morrow as wing-backs, Toronto FC has, arguably, two of the best engines in North America down the flanks. This is Vanney’s key defensive philosophy in action: defence becomes easier when you create problems for your opponents. The attacking threat of these two defenders, coupled with their ability to race back to protect their own goal, should keep Tigres off-balance along the wings.
Finally, recent struggles with speedy forwards Dominique Badji and Gyasi Zardes have taught several good lessons to both the players and the coaching staff ahead of tonight’s clash. Toronto will have learned from their mistakes, and that will serve them well.
This is an easy one. But, it is an important one. As the captain has said before, the Reds want their opponents “on our field, in our weather.” Between the 2016 and 2017 MLS Cup playoffs, and the 2018 CCL games against Colorado, no team in North America has more experience playing big matches in miserable weather. Even Saturday’s game against Columbus was cold, especially with the wind blowing towards the south end.
Game-time conditions for tonight are forecast to be a rain/snow mix with the temperature hovering around 2 degrees Celsius. This is a far cry from the 25-degree weather that Tigres enjoyed during Sunday’s victory over Veracruz.
The awful weather at this time of year has also led to an awful pitch. But, in a game like this, the “awful” pitch should work against the quick passing and creativity of Toronto’s greatest opponents to date. Tigres has been used to relatively tight, groomed fields over their past 10 Liga MX games. By contrast, so far in 2018, TFC has played all of their meaningful matches on less than ideal turf. Consequently, the Reds should be better prepared to handle this situation.
I know that Tigres is used to playing in hostile environments. But, our environment is not so much hostile as it is supportive of the Reds. The distinction may seem subtle, but it is incredibly significant. It is what propels our players on the field, and lifts them above what even they thought possible. This is not hyperbole. It’s something that almost every TFC player has said over the past two campaigns.
Our twelfth man is 30,000 strong. Enough said.