New England travels north of the
wall border today to take on Toronto FC, the resident cool new guys on the block (even though the team itself isn't all that new). It's an opportunity for the Revs to continue their positive momentum following last week's 2-0 win over reigning champs Sporting Kansas City. But New England has never won at BMO Field. Will they break that streak today?
We spoke with Waking The Red's Duncan Fletcher about this afternoon's match-up and tried to figure out just how the Revs might be able to leave Canada with a point or three in tow. (We also answered some of their questions, too.)
TBM: Toronto FC made some of the biggest moves in MLS during the off season. Should everyone buy into the hype or should we still wait?
DF: It's difficult to tell really as injuries have wreaked havoc with the first team so far this season, so I can't really say if the team as a whole is going to do great things. On an individual basis, the big moves have so far had mixed success. Michael Bradley looked absolutely phenomenal in his first few games before picking up an injury and looking merely human in his first week back, hopefully he's fully fit again as his ability to see the play, break up opposition attacks and quickly start moves the other way is a huge part of any success TFC might have. Jermain Defoe looked very sharp before injuries took him out of the lineup as well, he's definitely in golden boot contention if he doesn't miss much more time with injuries or World Cup absences. Our other DP, Gilberto has done some good things and looks useful for sure, but hasn't scored yet, and has very rarely looked like scoring which isn't good for a DP forward. Dwayne de Rosario has looked like a shadow of his former self, though he's been struggling with injuries so I'll be charitable and say it's related to that rather than mere old age. As for Julio Cesar, he's probably played a part in the improved defence ahead of him, but he hasn't looked amazing when it comes to the actual goalkeeping. He's made some good saves here and there, but any goalie should do that, and there hasn't been a game he's saved for us so far, his save percentage is a thoroughly mediocre 68%, tied for 10th in the league so I'm not sure he's worth the $200k that we're apparently paying out of his QPR salary.
All in all, too soon to tell if the hype is fully justified or not, and with world cup absences we won't really know for a long time. I'm cautiously optimistic though.
TBM: The Revs have never won at BMO field. But Toronto already has one loss at home this season. What's TFC's biggest weakness that the Revs could potentially exploit to make it two losses for the Reds at home this season?
DF: Difficult to say really as all 3 defeats have come in different ways, and generally against injury weakened teams. Real Salt Lake played more or less our first team, but did their RSL thing and passed us to death in a very clinical fashion for a 3-0 win. Colorado came to BMO Field, sat back, denied TFC any mistakes to pounce on and then capitalised on a bit of a scrappy play to score their goal, and an injury ravaged TFC wasn't good enough to be able to break them down at all. Dallas had a ton of possession and just eventually wore us down with brute force, throwing cross after cross, and 16 corners, in as TFC's counter attack approach gave way to just straight up bunkering and eventually forcing a late winner. When at full strength there are very few weaknesses to TFC's defence. Try and come through the middle and you run into Michael Bradley who'll win the ball and launch an attack remarkably quickly. Try and go over him and the centre backs will eat up long balls all day no problem, same if you're going wide and throwing in crosses. If you can get the ball wide and then try to attack along the ground from there, I'd say that's the best bet when it comes to attacking Toronto.
TBM: TFC have only scored six goals, which is good for last in the Eastern Conference. What does the attack need in order to get going? How will the team fair against the Revs who have recorded 3 shutouts this year?
DF: The easy answer is to have played as many games as the other teams, in goals per game we're tied for 6th and ahead of a certain Foxboro based team. Also, play easier teams, there are 10 teams with more points than TFC so far, all 6 teams played so far are in that 10, as are the next 4 teams we play in the league, so hasn't been an easy start, but it's a fair point. The main thing we need is to have a fit and healthy Jermain Defoe as the other strikers haven't really looked up to the job yet. So far TFC's attack is based on what I call 'the Waterboy offence' - let the other team have the ball (we've been massively outpossessed in every game but one so far) and wait for a mistake, then pounce on it and try a quick counter attack. To be fair, when everyone's available it's not a bad plan. Teams will regularly make mistakes and lose possession, but Bradley is very very good at reading the game and making interceptions or creating pressure to make that happen with more frequency, and then he's got the speed of mind to see any opportunity and the skill to make the pass. Jonathan Osorio alongside Bradley has looked impressive so far this season as well when he's played and Alvaro Rey and Jackson on the wings bring a threat as well, Defoe certainly has the instincts to make the right runs to create those opportunities and is quite the lethal finisher when it all comes together properly. I think a lot of teams will copy what Colorado did, especially at BMO Field and sit back, deny the counter attack, give us the ball and challenge us to beat them, hopefully the proper first team will have the nous to be able to do that.
TBM: TFC's injury report for this week looks mighty full. Do they have the depth to field a winning team on Saturday? Whose health is most crucial to Toronto's success and who might get a golden opportunity to step into the lineup and cause problems for New England?
DF: Well it looks like it's clearing up as notes from training suggest the vast majority of the walking wounded will be back in action, it will be more a case of a lot of players trying to shake off rust at the same time. Depth is definitely a big problem for TFC as there's still work to be done building up what Ryan Nelsen calls the 12-20 players after years of tearing down and rebuilding killed off that depth. I'd say the replacements for Michael Bradley are of a higher quality than those for Defoe, so I'll go with Defoe as the most crucial, though Bradley looks to be the best player on the team. A few players have stepped in and looked ok, Kyle Bekker in Midfield, Bradley Orr and Nick Hagglund in defence, Issey Nakajima-Farran on the wing and the depth will again be tested when the World Cup camps start. July, and the chance for the first choice team to get some consistent games in can't come soon enough.
TBM: Any finally: Projected lineup and scoreline?
DF: Left to Right - Julio Cesar; Justin Morrow, Doneil Henry, Steven Caldwell, Mark Bloom; Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio; Jackson, Alvaro Rey, (though they'll swap wings throughout the game); Gilberto, Jermain Defoe.