New England Revolution vs. Toronto FC: Know Thy Enemy

SEATTLE - APRIL 30: Members of Toronto FC pose for the team photo prior to the game against the Seattle Sounders FC at Qwest Field on April 30, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. Seattle defeated Toronto 3-0. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The New England Revolution are set to welcome the Reds of Toronto FC to Foxboro on Wednesday night for their second match in just four days. New England is coming off an improved but disappointing performance in New York on Saturday that saw them snap their 600+ minute scoreless streak from open play but still lose 2-1 after fluffing several gilt-edged scoring chances. Toronto, on the other hand, fought to a very creditable away draw against LA this weekend but have been experiencing a season to forget to this point.

Toronto's squad has yet to really gel this season as they continue to try and mold themselves to new head coach Aron Winter's Dutch 4-3-3 system. They're missing several players to Gold Cup duty, including designated player Julian de Guzman, but they have threats in the form of attackers like Joao Plata and especially Maicon Santos. This is a match that the Revs should be able to handle and win, but Toronto cannot be taken lightly because they have the ability to cause the upset.

INJURY UPDATE: The Revs released an updated list today. Marko Perovic is (obviously) still listed as out, but he's joined by Ousmane Dabo with a right quad strain, the same injury that forced him to leave early in New York on Saturday. Rather surprisingly, Benny Feilhaber was upgraded to doubtful for his ankle sprain, and Didier Domi makes his umpteenth appearance on the injury report at questionable due to achilles tendonitis.

Today I have a bit of a special Q&A. Duncan Fletcher of Waking the Red here on SB Nation asked some questions of me and I returned the favor, but he was on vacation and I wasn't sure if he would be able to answer them in time. Thus, I also solicited five questions from Duane Rollins, formerly the TFC correspondent for MLSSoccer.com and a senior writer/editor/co-founder for Canadian Soccer News and the 24th Minute. Rather than choose one or the other, I will present both.

TBM: TFC has been on a real rough run this season, and the Aron Winter era seems to have been sputtering straight from the start. Do you think its only a matter of time before Winter sees the door, or do you believe that Toronto will look to stick it out with him to maintain some organizational stability, which the club has really lacked in all the years of its existence?

DF: It's a good and bad thing for Aron Winter that we've already had 4 shambolic years before he came along. Bad in that fans don't have much patience and are already getting a bit grumpy. Good in the sense that even the most disgruntled fan isn't calling for his head, if only because we desperately need some stability. I think he'll be given at least into next summer to improve things, having a full off season to bring in the players who can play the system he wants. If we're still struggling this time next year, look out.

DR: There is literally no way Winter will be fired this year. He's been promised three years and he's agreed to three years. A big part of what Jürgen Klinsmann stressed to MLSE was the need for stability in management and players. As such, the club has been given a free pass on results this year from the front office. They won't admit that publically, but there is a understanding amongst those that matter at
TFC that it took more than a year for Mo Johnston to make the mess and it's going to take more than one year to clean it up.

TBM: Week in and week out, the most dangerous player on the team sheet for the Reds seems to be Maicon Santos. He scores brilliant goals and provides an attacking spark that no one else seems able to reproduce. However, it has seemed to me that he can go missing for extended periods of time, sometimes even entire games. This weekend, Alan Gordon had to play savior with his two goals against LA, something no one can expect to happen every week. How important is it that the TFC coaching staff finds a way to get consistent form out of Santos and what can they do to maximize his ability and that of the attacking players around him?

DF: Maicon Santos is an infuriating player, for the vast majority of any game he'll be invisible, unmotivated and unskilled. But every now and then he'll do something spectacular, and he does seem to be one of the few TFC players that can consistently score. He didn't really work as well at the Centre Forward spot as Alan Gordon does, holding the ball up, bringing other players into the game, and pulling the defence out of position. He was tried in the Attacking Midfield spot behind Gordon and that didn't really work either. He would probably be best used as a second striker, playing off Gordon, but that would mean Winter changing around his precious 4-3-3 formation which he seems unprepared to do. He could potentially play at Left Wing, or maybe try again at Attacking Midfield, but whatever position he's in, he doesn't really seem to be able to play his role for the good of the team, we'd be better off with him on the bench. But we need his finishing ability as barely anyone else can score, it's a conundrum.

DR: The return of Gordon - he was out a month with a knee injury -- is key to Santos. Winter likes to play the Brazilian in a false 9 role and he needs a pure centre forward on the pitch to do that. That's Gordon. Look for Santos to slot into into the middle of the pitch, just behind Gordon. With Julian de Guzman away with Canada for the Gold Cup Santos will be asked to come back a bit further than he might otherwise to provide the linkage. He's a much better playmaker than many realize.

TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player that Revs fans should watch out for in this match.

DF: We've had a couple of players who broke out and have then gone back to average, Javier Martina and Joao Plata. One of our most consistent newcomers is Richard Eckersley, a former Manchester United reserve team player of the year who's worked his way down the English pyramid and is with us for the season on loan from Burnley. He's a Right Back who's ok defensively, and very good at going forward and joining in the attack. With injury and Gold Cup problems affecting our squad, he's probably the only defender that any fans are actually happy with.

DR: Nick Soolsma has looked increasingly more dangerous as the season has progressed. He's a young guy that grew up in the Dutch system. At the start of the season he looked a bit lost and intimidated by the physicality of MLS, but as he's gotten used to his skill has started to shine through. Richard Eckersley - who won the Carling Cup while a youth player at Manchester United - has increasingly looked dangerous as he has gained his fitness. He will attack aggressively from the right full-back slot.

TBM: Who do you think Toronto FC fears most on the pitch for the Revolution?

DF: It's still all about Shalrie Joseph for you guys isn't it? Julian de Guzman is away at the Gold Cup, and Tony Tchani and Jacob Peterson both left Saturday's game with injuries, so we could have a very patched together midfield and Joseph is good enough to really take advantage.

DR: As much as I'd like to go out of the box here, I can't. Shalrie Joseph has killed TFC in the past. They will need to shut him down. Hopefully Paul Mariner knows a few tricks.

TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.

DF :Stefan Frei
Richard Eckersley (right back), Doneil Henry, Ty Harden, Danleigh Borman
Nathan Sturgis, Mikael Yourassowsky
Maicon Santos
Nick Soolsma, Alan Gordon, Joao Plata.

Whoever lines up won't be anywhere near out first choice lineup, I was stunned when we got a 2-2 tie in L.A, but i can't see us doing it again. 2-0 Revs.

DR: Toronto is terrible on the road. They have only won nine games all time away from BMO Field. And, Gillette has been the stadium where Toronto has looked the worst. The one caveat to that is that the Reds played probably their best road game in a couple seasons Saturday against LA. So, maybe...

Nah. 2-0 New England.

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