The nonsensical playoff talk can finally be silenced as the Fire try to avoid a staggering 20 loss season. The current total of 17 is already an MLS worst and all-time club high - or low depending on your perspective. Martin Tomszak previews Toronto FC led by the player who appears to be the sure fire 2015 league MVP.
Can You Please Tell Us What They’re All Aboot, eh? TFC Preview
Drogba vu! The coaching staff may have changed in Chicago but the results remain the same. The Fire lost to Montreal 2-1 on Wednesday night with Didier Drogba notching another goal against them and Andres Romero sealing the deal. Brian Bliss and Logan Pause only had two training sessions with the team heading into the match and not much can change in such a short span of time.
Defensive errors, shocking calls from the ref, and a lack of finishing cost the Fire dearly but there is no time for lingering thoughts as they travel to Toronto for their second match in four days. They will be taking on a TFC side that has its fate in its own hands as a win against Chicago virtually seals their playoff spot, while the Fire themselves will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss/tie to TFC or a Montreal result against D.C.
Toronto Form Guide: W-L-L-L-W
Previous match: A 3-1 home win against New England.
Formation in the last match: 4-4-2: Konopka; Morrow, Perquis, Williams, Delgado; Osorio, Cheyrou, Bradley, Findley; Altidore, Giovinco
Strengths: We have seen a preview of Toronto FC this season already, but it came in the first three weeks of the season. A lot has changed since then for both sides with TFC looking to secure its first ever playoff berth while Chicago’s season is essentially over and the players are fighting for the right to wear the badge again next season.
A lot of the strengths that were mentioned last time out, three marquee DPs, a host of league talent in support, and quality international signings to round out the roster, continue to ring true for Greg Vanney and his men. One merely has to look at Sebastian Giovinco’s 19 goals and 14 assists or the fact that fourteen separate players have scored and fourteen separate players have registered assists for TFC to gauge the success of their season so far. At times TFC looks like the real deal and they have time on their side down the final stretch.
Momentum: While looking at the form guide above doesn’t exactly lend itself to thinking that TFC are on the upswing, taking into account the way that they played against Colorado while looking at their upcoming schedule says otherwise. The match against the Rapids had an air of urgency about it from the very first whistle and the high pressing style of TFC paid off early as Giovinco rifled a shot at Clint Irwin, who mishandled the ball and watched it trickle into the net at the 15 minute mark. It took Giovinco just three minutes to add another goal with a beautiful curling shot to the far post. The score line read 3-0 in the 38th minute as the “Atomic Ant” whipped in a corner that was neatly finished by Damien Perquis. Colorado managed to claw one back a minute later, but the furious reaction of the TFC players to letting go of a clean sheet was perhaps more important than the Rapid’s goal itself.
The passing was fluid, the movement off the ball was perfectly orchestrated, the understanding between players in the attacking half was visible, and even the defense looked better than it had in the previous four matches. Sure, it was lowly Colorado but there was an air of confidence around BMO field that hasn’t been seen for a while. Toronto has always had the dark shadow of failure slowly creeping over its shoulder, but something feels different this season. The likes of Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Benoit Cheyrou, etc. don’t look like they’ll accept failure as TFC looks to make history. With Chicago and Philadelphia visiting in the next two matches Toronto knows more than ever that they control their own destiny. On paper the next two games should equal six points for the Reds and they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Look for them to make a statement on Saturday.
Weaknesses: Did you notice how the section above mentioned that TFC look like the real deal “sometimes”? The fact that before the victory over the Rapids Toronto had dropped three matches in a row to opposition that is better than Colorado is a telling sign that perhaps things have not really changed all that much for TFC after all. An over reliance on Giovinco, horrendous defending, lapses in concentration on both sides of the ball, and failure under pressure are all valid critiques of a side that may be puffing its chest too early. Could it be the case that the teams around them are getting worse and the expanded playoff pool is making them look better than they really are? Let’s take a look.
Pick on Someone Your Own Size: Yes, the way that the league is structured means that overall budget restraints keep the playing field somewhat “even”. However, the way in which TFC has spent money on DPs should arguably lead to a higher place in the standings than 5th (or 6th if Montreal wins its game in hand). Just ask TFC fans. Toronto’s league high wage bill comes in at a whopping $20.5 million and that isn’t counting what it took to bring some of those players to MLS. To add some perspective to that, defending champions L.A have the second highest payroll expenditure at $15 million.
Why does this matter for a weakness preview? Because Toronto hasn’t filled its shoes when it comes to acting like the big boys. You have to go back to June 6th, away to D.C. to see the last victory TFC have had over a team higher than them in the standings. What’s worse is that aside from an early victory over Orlando in week four, the D.C. match was the only time this entire season that Toronto took a swing at someone ahead of them in the table and left with three points. That has to be absolutely infuriating if you are the Toronto front office. Sure they might beat Chicago on Saturday and squeak into the playoffs, but what will they actually accomplish by doing so? Does it justify the way in which they have conducted business, and does it make up for the previous nine seasons?
We’re not sure if we can answer that but more importantly, the inconsistencies of a Toronto side that has historically struggled with identity could rear their ugly head down the stretch again and the question can be avoided all together. When they’re good, they’re good but when they face adversity they tend to collapse as is evident in recent losses. Let’s take a look.
Atrocious Defending: Sure, Giovinco and company can find the back of the net but TFC’s ability to concoct new ways to let in goals borders on hilarity. Toronto has conceded 50 goals this season. Only expansion side Orlando City has a worse goals against tally (51). Although Chicago isn’t far behind having conceded 48 goals this campaign, they haven’t gone out and spent money on center backs and defensive midfielders in the way that Toronto has. If you take a look at the three losses mentioned above, you get a sense that the TFC backline and goalkeeper still don’t have a sense of understanding, exhibit a lack of chemistry, and don’t communicate well this deep in the season.
While that may be a bi-product of formation, tactic, and lineup changes, those things are part and parcel of the game. Against NYCFC both center backs gave Frank Lampard too much respect, time, and space as he put down his cane to notch his first ever MLS goal. Later in the match, Chris Konopka appeared to give a shout that he was coming to claim an incoming corner and absolutely missed the ball which Patrick Mullins easily put in the back of the net to round out the 2-0 loss.
Ball watching, a lack of man marking, and forgetting to pick up late runs were common features in the 3-1 loss at New England. Perquis put a cross in his own net for the first; TFC let long range specialist Diego Fagundez have a free shot from outside the box for the second; and Bradley was stripped of possession in his own box before Kelyn Rowe slotted home the third.
The Seattle match showed many of the same defensive errors. TFC decided that they were going to play a high line. Attempting to catch Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins offside was the tactical plan of the day. It took five minutes for that to plan to unravel as Dempsey timed a run to perfection and the back line was too slow to catch up for the first score. The second goal conceded could have been a three stooges sketch as Clement Simonin was beaten for pace against Martins who then nutmegged Eriq Zavaleta on his way into the box. Konopka slid in to stop the attack and completely miss handed the ball which found its way to the feet of Dempsey for a tap in.
The game tapes from the last month have to give the Fire some hope. After all, Chicago did tear Toronto apart on the wings in their first meeting this season. David Accam, Joevin Jones, and Kennedy Igboananike will be looking to get at TFC down the flanks again and you can bet former Toronto DP Gilberto has this match circled on his calendar. This will be a fun one and could very much be a case of who can score more.
Prediction: After beating TFC at Toyota Park in April, Chicago continued the trend of not losing to Toronto. The last time they didn’t grab at least a point against their Northern neighbors was in May of 2010. In our first preview we predicted the Fire victory, the score line, and even some of the goal scorers, let’s try our luck again: Chicago 3-2 Toronto. It seems highly unlikely, but that would be very much the Chicago thing to do. Accam hits double digit goals for the season, Gilberto silences BMO field with a ridiculous bike, Jones makes it two in two against Toronto and Giovinco scores numbers 20 and 21 of the campaign.