With several notable absences through injury, suspension, and international duty, what becomes fairly clear is this: today is Giovinco’s time to shine.The diminutive Italian has been an important piece in TFCs lineup since his arrival, but at no time has the fate of the entire team rested solely on his shoulders the way it will be against Kyle Beckerman and Real Salt Lake.
The Reds come into tonight’s match up missing their captain, their leading scorer, their former captain and their best defender, not to mention a right back, and a depth central defender. For most teams, that is a horrific combination of absentees, but somehow TFC is remaining confident heading into a park where they generally get dismantled.
We need only look back as far as last season to know just how brutal Rio Tinto has been to TFC. After getting their season off to an unprecedented start, the Jermain Defoe led new look TFC were quickly brought back down to earth by a clinical and ruthless RSL in what was viewed no doubt as a statement game against a team that was the cup runner up.
The glaring holes in TFCs lineup are most notably up the spine. Missing Caldwell, Bradley and Altidore will be extremely difficult for anyone tasked to fill the voids. Collen Warner will most likely be asked to fill the spot left by Michael Bradley, while Nick Hagglund and Ashtone Morgan will be called in to reinforce the back line.
The wide positions will be the points most exploited by RSL. Warren Creavalle has not been stellar in both of TFCs opening matches. He has routinely been caught out of position as well as getting burned by speedy and skilled attacking forwards. What remains to be seen is if coach Vanney has offered up any advice to him in how to hone his skill set to become a more stable right back option.
We all know how Ashtone Morgan is capable of playing. On his best day he can be a nasty left back, able to shut down attackers as well as contribute to a counter attack. But at his worst, Morgan is a liability. Ever since the Danny Koevermans’ days, his development has been severely stunted. I can think of no better time for him to show his worth than today.
Today also marks Robbie Findley’s return to Utah since not having his option picked up by Real Salt Lake. Findley has played quite well in both of Toronto’s matches so far, scoring a goal and featuring prominently in most attacking plays. I’m sure he would want nothing more than to show his former club what they are missing.
That question that many are probably wondering is, where and how will Giovinco play?
We know that he is a traditional attacking midfielder, but we also have seen that he has a nose for goal as he showed while playing in Italy. If Vanney telling Giovinco to be a more selfish player is any indication, I would wager that he will play in some sort of a libero role with the ability to play as striker or float back to start a counter attack. Whatever his position will be, he will be looked on to do one thing and one thing only: score.
As much as TFC is missing several key pieces, RSL is also missing quite a few of their own. Most notable are Alvaro Saborio, Nick Rimando, Luis Gil, and former TFC draft pick Joao Plata.
The difference will be in the quality of depth players. On paper, Salt Lake’s lineup is solid from top to bottom, but can their role players be effective?
Many are eager to see just how well Giovinco will stack up against his counter part Kyle Beckerman in what will be the key match up of the night. Beckerman has the ability to win the ball as well as distribute it in a similar role as to what Michael Bradley plays. The question mark is will he be able to keep up with the younger, quicker and creative Giovinco and somehow neutralize him.
This is an important test for TFC and is in some ways a yardstick to compare themselves to a former champion and a perennial contender. While both teams are missing their superstars, this will be a gritty match in which I still think Salt Lake are the heavy favourites. If TFC can escape with at least a point, this should be viewed as a successful trip. Time will tell.