The New England Revolution are traveling over the border to take on Toronto FC Saturday night in an Eastern Conference battle that should, by conventional wisdom, be an easy road three points for the Revs. New England just ground out a 0-0 home draw with the Columbus Crew, while the Reds are working on their third match in seven days after drawing Houston 3-3 on Wednesday night.
Toronto is a team that's been all sorts of bad this season; they're 1-10-1, and led Houston 3-1 at one point on Wednesday before coughing it up and leaving two points on the field. That said, they have a tremendously talented squad, with the likes of Torsten Frings, Julian de Guzman, and Danny Koevermans roaming the pitch, enough to give pause to anyone in the league. Furthermore, new head coach Paul Mariner - yes, that Paul Mariner - promises to bring a new sense of life and purpose to a team that truly stagnated under former head coach Aron Winter.
TBM: This season has been bad. How much of a surprise was it to have such an awful start, especially after last season ended in a somewhat promising manner? And was it really Aron Winter's fault?
DF: It is definitely a surprise, especially after the CCL victory over L.A , who we all thought at the time were a really good team, to kick off the season, which really raised hopes.. Having said that though, most people recognised that the TFC that ended last season was still a very fragile thing and needed some vital reinforcements to be competitive. The primary need was at Centre Back, and it seemed we'd improved with the additions of Ecuadorian international Geovanny Caicedo and Chilean international Miguel Aceval. There are no guarantees but surely one of them would be an improvement. They weren't, at all, and so it was back to square one there. Also, Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans both got injuries that stopped them from really getting going, and just like that, the spine of the side was not only not strengthened, but dramatically weakened, and we were never a good enough side to withstand that. Joao Plata and Richard Eckersley have both taken a step back, and there's very few players that have actually improved.
Was it really Aron Winter's fault? Yes and no, The squad just wasn't good enough to withstand all the early injuries and disappointments, so there was only so much he would have been able to do. He obviously had a hand in building the squad though, (as did Paul Mariner, who judging by statements he's made seemed to be on a very different page than Winter, which can't have helped things), and didn't really help himself out by seeming incapable of successfully adapting his tactics to the players at his disposal. In the end he looked like just another big name foreign coach who couldn't quite adapt to the peculiarites of MLS.
TBM: I'm a huge Danny Koevermans fan, and I was really excited to see him make the MLS switch last season. It seems like he hasn't come out of the gate firing on all cylinders like last year, but if the Houston match is any indication, he'll get there soon. How important is it to the Reds that Koevermans be fully fit and scoring goals like he can?
DF: It will be hugely important. Ryan Johnson is a good player who has given his all this year, but lethal finishing really isn't his strongpoint, so we missed Koevermans' goals. The Houston game was very encouraging as both goals were like classic 2011 season Koevermans, clever movement to make space in the box and 1 touch to finish off a cross into the box. The fact that those were only his 4th and 5th goals of the season is frustrating as it seems like he was never quite fully fit, even before the injury that caused him to miss a few games. He's now got 4 goals in the last 4 league games so hopefully this can be the start of a run for him similar to what he did last year, which would definitely help us as secondary scoring has continued to be a problem. How he reacts to the new 4-4-2 system will go a long way in determining how successful it is. Whatever happens, he's got himself a permanent place in TFC folklore with his 'worst team in the world' interview.
TBM: The question I'm sure everyone is asking - how do the arrests of Luis Silva, Miguel Aceval, and Nick Soolsma affect this team going forward? Do they have a future at TFC?
DF: There's very little details that's come out about the circumstances of the arrest, so I'm wary of saying too much, but at the very least, it's an extra black mark the club didn't need. It's nowhere near as embarrassing as 1-1-9 is and plenty of people in football, sports, and the world in general have done much worse, so I don't think it will affect the club too much in the long term. Most fans seemed to see it as a chance to laugh than something to get outraged about. As for their own careers with TFC, well I think Aceval was already marked down as a failure to be shipped out at the earliest possible moment by most people so this will just make that decision a bit easier. Silva is a highly touted rookie, 4th overall, and though he hasn't really produced as people would have hoped so far this year, he's still seen as part of the club going forward, he'll be alright. As for Soolsma, I really like him but his season hasn't quite got going, and I don't get the impression he's a favourite of Paul Mariner, but hopefully he'll get another chance.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revolution fans should watch out for in this match.
DF: Weird as it sounds I'm going to say Julian de Guzman. Yes he's a DP, but he really hasn't been any kind of consistent success in his time in MLS, so few people really expect him to make a difference these days. Lately though, he has looked very good, with both Canada and Toronto, a fact emphasized when he was subbed off against Houston on Wednesday when we went from looking competent by TFC standards and as if we could hold on to the lead, to a team that couldn't string a pass together to get the ball out of defence, thus inviting wave after wave of attack. Still nowhere near worth his price tag of course, and for the love of god please stop with the shots form outside the box, but he's really contributing a lot in recent games.
TBM: Finally, let's get your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
DF: Torsten Frings and Milos Kocic both seemed to pick up injuries at the end of Wednesday's game, but presuming they're ok, I'll go with the same lineup that started that game and gave Houston all they could handle until late on. Milos Kocic; (L to R) Ashtone Morgan, Doneil Henry, Richard Eckersley, Jeremy Hall; Julian de Guzman, Torsten Frings, Terry Dunfield, Eric Avila; Danny Koevermans, Ryan Johnson.
Prediction: We're undermanned and hopeless at the back, but look like we're getting going up front, I'll go with what seems to be the two teams' historic favourite score at BMO Field, 2-2.