What Are They All About? Toronto FC
A win! The Chicago Fire Soccer Club notched its seventh victory of the campaign this past Sunday as they beat New England 2-1 and dashed another rival’s playoff hopes. Playing the role of spoiler might be on the cards again as they face a Toronto FC side jockeying for position in the post season this Sunday. The scenarios are endless on decision day but TFC needs to beat Chicago and hope NYCFC drops points against Columbus if they want to earn themselves a bye in the first round of the playoffs. This is the third meeting between these two sides this season with Toronto winning both previous encounters. The last fixture in September saw Chicago just six points outside of a playoff spot at the opening whistle and nine points outside of it at the end of the match, a fact that should give the Fire even more motivation heading into Sunday’s match at BMO Field.
After that loss to TFC, Chicago went on a six match winless streak which effectively ended their post season dreams. If players want to echo Veljko Paunovic’s calls for passion, a strong mentality, and a positive reaction to adversity—not to mention save their jobs—there would be no better way to exhibit that than by helping earn Chicago’s second road win of the season. These same stakes have arguably been there for much of the season, so will Chicago supporters witness the improbable or will it be more of the same?
TFC (Last Five Matches): D-L-D-D-D
Previous Match: A 2-2 away draw with the Montreal Impact.
Formation in Previous Match: 4-4-2 (diamond); Irwin; Bloom, Zavaleta, Moor, Morrow; Bradley, Cooper, Lovitz, Osorio; Altidore, Babouli
Strengths: As has recently become the case, Chicago is facing another team that should be familiar to them and to our readers. Greg Vanney won’t have very many surprises up his sleeve as Giovinco’s return from injury has allowed for a return to their 4-4-2 diamond formation and a tactical reliance on Giovinco as a withdrawn forward/connecting midfielder. Typical TFC strengths include versatility in midfield, Jozy Altidore’s return to form, Giovinco’s presence, and a stingy defense (by Eastern Conference standards).We invite you to re-visit our previous examinations of TFC as we give a quick overview of their recent strengths.
No, We’d Rather You Didn’t: If there’s one thing that Chicago has struggled with consistently throughout the season it is chance creation. David Accam leads the side with 27 SOG this season and trailing him are Solignac (11), DeLeeuw (11) and Goossens (10). Although those numbers should be worrying on their own, TFC has allowed just 11 shots on target over the course of their last three matches. Whether it’s the tactical awareness in midfield or an improved back line, the fact remains that Toronto does not allow the opposition many opportunities to score. Their Eastern Conference low of 37 GA speaks for itself (at least on the surface) and there is perhaps no better way of illustrating that the Fire need a CAM than by finishing the campaign against this TFC side.
History in the Making: While Chicago fans have it pretty bad, TFC fans can commiserate. This is just their second ever playoff appearance and last year’s historic feat was overshadowed by a play-in game loss to bitter rivals Montreal. The FO will want to prove that they have gotten it right this time around so a lot rides on this match. Yes, their first ever home playoff match has already been secured, TFC wouldn’t mind a bye week to gather their thoughts and fully rest some of their players. Ultimately that decision is out of their hands but three points is the minimum requirement. We would assume that Toronto comes out “Full Power”—as Veljko Paunovic would say—and looks to get ahead early in this one.
Weaknesses: There are sure to be some weak spots in this TFC side as pressure mounts heading into their first ever home playoff match. There is no doubt that TFC has more quality than Chicago but will their minds be in the right place? Let’s take a look.
Goals Against Can Be Deceiving: That marvelous stat from above isn’t all that it’s built up to be. Their shrewd acquisitions of Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour along with an improved season from Justin Morrow seem to be paying off overall but Toronto has a bad habit of conceding at the most inopportune times. Yes, there is never a good time to concede but giving up goals soon after scoring, right before half time, right after half time, or in the dying minutes of the game have been in TFC’s wheelhouse all too often this season.
The onus of this cannot be laid entirely on the back line because the buildup style of play instituted by the squad means that everyone has to take responsibility on the defensive end as well. They move like a well-oiled machine offensively but there are times when TFC supporters would like to see Altidore close down quicker, Ricketts and Hamilton track back, Giovinco minimize space between the attack and the midfield in transition, etc. History insinuates that there will be at least one clear cut opportunity for Chicago in this one.
One Man Show: The biggest weakness that has been evident with this TFC side has been their over reliance on Giovinco. While some pundits will argue that this is not the case, Toronto has gone winless in five matches since they took all three points at Toyota Park, a span which saw Giovinco in the stands for the first four of those. His recent return against Montreal was capped off with a late assist to Tosaint Ricketts to salvage a point for his side, another indication that he is absolutely integral for TFC. Stopping him is no easy feat but Chicago might get a helping hand from Patrick Vieira. If Giovinco starts and Toronto goes into half time seeing NYCFC up over Columbus by a wide margin we doubt that Vanney will trot him out for the second half. He won’t admit it but publicly but TFC’s title chances really rest on the shoulders of the small man from Turin. With nothing else left to play for, a few tough yellow card worthy challenges could find Giovinco subbed off and wrapped in bubble wrap.
Drop in Form and a Drop in Mentality: Whether or not Giovinco and his quality performances are back, the fact that TFC has gone on this winless streak leading into the playoffs cannot be overlooked. Year after year MLS sees teams that build momentum late go deep into the post season—last year’s Portland side and LA the year before are clear examples of this. Toronto’s last three matches do not reflect anything close to a strong mentality. They went down twice against Montreal in their last match and despite what Vanney says about tying on the road he cannot be happy with the performance. In the match against DC, Toronto took an early lead only to give up two unanswered goals for their seventh home loss of the season. Eastern Conference bottom dwellers Orlando City managed to stifle TFC in a 0-0 draw on match day 30. Those three performances should worry TFC and give Chicago a glimmer of hope.
Furthermore, in their midweek interviews Greg Vanney, Armando Cooper, Drew Moor, and Jon Osorio were unanimous in reflecting that TFC will need to have a change in mentality heading into the last match day. You cannot just snap your fingers to fix your form and saying you’ll be positive is a far cry from seeing that reflected on the pitch. In a strange way Chicago enters this match with an edge in the mental game.
Prediction: We’ve long lost the motivation to predict results but seeing as this is the last preview of the season we’ll return to our hopeful ways. Chicago 3-2 Toronto. David Accam reaches double digits, Michael DeLeeuw continues to show that Rodriguez got something right, and Arturo Alvarez ensures that the Fire increase their matching contribution to his pension. It has been an absolute pleasure writing these previews for you gals and guys this season. A special thanks to Guillermo for allowing me to do so, and an even bigger thanks to those of you that read them. Enjoy your offseason and we’ll see you in February. Cheers!