The grace period is over for Toronto FC. With their elimination from the Champions League this week, their focus will turn to the MLS regular season, or at least one would hope. Saturday’s game will be history in the making as the two teams are set to renew their rivalry, however, for the first time in MLS play. The Canadian rivals never fail to entertain fans when they meet. The two cities are long-time rivals, most notably in hockey where the Maple Leafs and Canadiens will also meet tomorrow night marking the last game of the season for both teams. It has been a highly anticipated fixture for the Impact and TFC, now magnified by the significance of the game for both teams looking for their first win of the season.
It has been three games and three losses so far this season for TFC, to go along with a minus six goal differential. Blaming this skid solely on the defense, however, seems to be the easy way out. While the defense has been in shambles in the first three games, the whole team is at fault for their slow start. The forwards are creating chances but have only been able to find the back of the net once in three games, off of Ryan Johnson’s wonder goal versus Seattle.
The midfield play has been subpar at best. They have not been able to create much from the midfield and key players such as Julian de Guzman and Terry Dunfield are often caught out of position after turnovers, leaving the team vulnerable at the back. Aron Winter will need all hands on deck for his team to break this losing streak and get their first league points this season.
On the other side of the pitch, Montreal is coming into Saturday’s game still looking for their first win of the season. They have four losses and one draw in five games this season, certainly nothing to write home about. In their inaugural season, expectations should not be too high as TFC fans can certainly relate too. It took TFC five games in their inaugural season to pick up their first win, one of just six games they won all season. Both teams played midweek so neither side will have an advantage in that respect.
Looking at TFC, defense has been an ongoing issue not just this season, but since the club entered the MLS in 2007. Ty Harden has been a dismal all season, while Miguel Aceval showed his true colours Wednesday night against Santos. Aceval looked out of shape and, to put it blatantly, amateurish. He was to blame for at least three Santos goals, while his inability to play the ball has to be worrisome for Winter. Needless to say, TFC will be happy to have Doneil Henry and Adrian Cann back, or just about back.
Henry and Cann will likely be inserted directly into the starting lineup when they become available. This allows Winter to put Harden and Aceval back on the substitutes bench. Winter should also consider giving Aceval an opportunity to play in a defensive midfield role, replacing the ineffective Terry Dunfield. Aceval seems overwhelmed at his “natural” center back position, but his ability to push forward and contribute on the attack makes him an intriguing option to fill the defensive midfield role for TFC. This way he can still come back and defend, acting as a fifth defender if need be, but he can also push forward without having to worry about leaving the team susceptible on defense. It is certainly something Winter should look into.
In the midfield, de Guzman and Dunfield have had rather disappointing starts to the season. Dunfield looks nervous and rushed with the ball at his feet, while de Guzman has failed to create much offensively and has a few key giveaways leading to goals for the opposition.
It makes you wonder how long it will be until Winter turns to youngsters Nicholas Lindsay, Oscar Cordon or Matt Stinson to see what sort of spark they may be able to provide the team. The revolving door will continue in the midfield until Winter can find the right combination and the right chemistry to produce and get results. Eric Avila and Luis Silva will continue to get their chances until someone proves they are worthy of a guaranteed spot in the starting XI.
Up front, the pressure is there but the goals have yet to come. Winter seemed pleased with the team’s efforts on attack last week, stating he feels if the team continues to push forward as they have been doing, it is just a matter of time before the floodgates open. The question is, how long until they have this breakthrough, or will this season be a continuous struggle for goals?
Forward Danny Koevermans will have to be the first to step up and start scoring. He was the team’s most reliable goal scorer in the second half of last season, but has yet to find the back of the net in all competitions in 2012. The veteran seemed frustrated after last week’s loss to Columbus, but assured to reporters this is not his first goal drought nor will it be his last. He urged reporters to bear with him and that it would only be a matter of time before the goals started to come.
Hopefully he is right, because TFC can not afford to be held off the score sheet much longer. It is a marathon, not a sprint, but if they keep losing it will be hard to make up all that ground later in the season.
Saturday’s game is one both teams will feel they can win, which probably means it will end in a draw. In a derby of this magnitude, games are often hard fought with very little separating the two teams. One thing is for sure, both teams will need to bring their A-game as they are running out of excuses, and time.
Prediction: Montreal 1, TFC 1
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(image courtesy of torontofc.ca)