If ever there was a game that the New England Revolution should win but always seem to mess up one way or another, it's probably any match played against Toronto FC. The Reds have been a terrible team in MLS since their inception (despite setting early benchmarks in supporter culture), and yet New England hasn't been able to beat them since 2010, and the all-time series between the two comes out nearly even at 4-3-6.
Despite TFC's awful record, they aren't completely without bite. Robert Earnshaw is a quality striker, Luis Silva is an electric young player, and there's some youth and unpredictability in that roster that could worry any team. They've certainly scored more goals than the Revs, although they've conceded plenty more, as well.
Today's Q&A is with Duncan Fletcher of Waking The Red, SB Nation's TFC Blog.
TBM: One win in eleven games played is certainly not the glorious start to a new era TFC fans might have been hoping for. What's been going wrong for this club in the first part of the season, and do you think it's possible for the Reds to settle the ship in 2013?
DF: It's less than ideal, that's for sure, and the way we've got here has really made things worse. Going into the season no-one was expecting great things, but the first few games, TFC looked competitive and got a win and a few ties in what was a very tough schedule, so I think people began to think that this season wasn't going to be all that bad, and it seems that Kevin Payne and Ryan Nelsen bought into that. When results stopped going our way, they seemed to abandon the long term plan and have been making all sorts of new signings, with new lineups being sent out game after game, adding instability into the mix of a new team trying to get its feet under it.
There have been two main problems on the pitch. First up is a lack of creativity, leading to a lack of good goalscoring opportunities. Robert Earnshaw had a very hot streak to start the season which masked the issue, but that ended and Earnshaw is looking more and more frustrated at the lack of service, and all the long balls he's forced to battle for. The other problem has been late goals conceded, a perennial TFC issue that has actually got worse this season. The main reason for that is a style that gives possession away again and again and invites more and more pressure, so some goals will be inevitable. Add onto that a series of individual mistakes that have also led to goals and it's clear there's a fully grown mental block developed.
Can they settle the ship? A few weeks back I'd have confidently said yes, but right now it seems like management is floundering, trying to find a quick fix, in 'flinging shit at the wall to see what sticks' mode. It might work, and you'd think eventually they'd find a reliable first team, but it looks like it's going to take a long long time.
TBM: Ryan Nelsen is the new manager du jour up there, and his appointment was a bit odd, if I remember correctly. He was hired while still playing for QPR and arrived late. How much do you think the current club woes have to do with the irregularities of Nelsen's appointment, and how much of it is just him? Or is he really to blame at all?
DF: It was a very bizarre press conference, but really imagine if they'd announced "He's got a job to do in Europe right now and he won't be here until he's done that, but the next TFC manager will be.....Jose Mourinho!" No-one would have been concerned at all, so it comes down to 'if he's the right man, he's worth waiting for'. Though his absence didn't end up being that long, TFC were once again in the position of signing players right before the season started, with new players being brought in throughout the first few months, giving it all a bit of a preseason feeling, so I'd say it was definitely a factor.
Is Nelsen the right man though? That remains to be seen. The early returns were good as TFC looked a lot more organised than in previous years, as if the foundation they talked about building was actually taking place, though work obviously needed doing in building the quality of the squad. April and May have been rough months though, so there's plenty of room for doubt, but blame could be placed just as much on Kevin Payne whose personnel decisions so far can definitely be called into question.
TBM: Robert Earnshaw was a bit of a revelation in the early going this season, though it feels like he's been stuck on five goals for like two months. What does he bring that has allowed him to score those goals, and how much more potent do you think the offense could be if he's given a chance to pair up with nearly-healthy Danny Koevermans?
DF: Earnshaw is a very opportunistic player who's always able to use his smarts and his speed to pounce on anything the defence might give him, whether an errant backpass or a lazy offside trap. In march, he was absolutely lethal as well, converting almost all the good chances that came his way. That's gone away in the last month or so, with shots finding the post or goalie, or with him not really making a good connection. In Colorado he missed 3 good chances, and we went on to lose 1-0. That's the main thing that's caused the recent losing streak as TFC aren't good enough, don't create enough chances for the strikers to be merely average.
In the last game, Earnshaw seemed determined to get his touch back, often trying to do it all himself rather than pass to a teammate, a worrying development.
If and when Koevermans is back and back to full fitness, they should prove a very interesting partnership, both are more poachers, clinical finishers, than creators, so Toronto will still be at the mercy of the midfield. Koevermans should at least help with TFC's predeliction for the long ball, he'll have more of a chance against the physical centre backs, so that at the very least will help Earnshaw, as will the extra bit of space that he should get form defenders having to pay attention to Koevermans as well.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revolution fans should watch out for in this match.
DF: Hopefully that will be Jeremy Brockie. A New Zealand international signed recently on loan until the start of the A-League season. It's difficult to say that though as he's had just one sub appearance so far last week, where he wasn't particularly noticeable, though he played and scored in a reserve game afterwards.
Another option is Reggie Lambe. Paul Mariner, a poor manager but a world class quote machine, called him a one in sixer, and it's been a while since he's had a good game, he's due his one in six. When he does play well on the wing (which one? Your guess is as good as mine, there's very little consistency to the lineup) he's a dangerous player, with more of an eye for goal than most of our midfielders.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
DF: Tweets from training told of a long list of injured, ill or not quite fit enough to be risked on turf players, so more than likely we'll see a team very similar to what played last week. I'll go with Joe Bendik in goal. In defence from right to left, Ryan Richter, Steven Caldwell, Doneil Henry, and Darren O'Dea. In midfield, there'll be Jeremy Hall and Matías Laba sitting deep with Reggie Lambe and Luis Silva playing further up, and with Robert earnshaw and Jeremy Brockie up front. Brockie and Silva might end up swapped in that lineup. Predicted score: It's got low scoring written all over it. I'll go 1-0 Revs, with a late winner from, why not, Chad Barrett.