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  • Los Angeles Galaxy v. Toronto FC preview: To live and die in L.A.


    ccs-54-140264012182_thumb.jpgA week removed from Toronto FC's Biggest Game Ever™, and we're faced with a sequel which is actually bigger.

    That's just the nature of Champions League football, of course, especially in the knockout stages. But while tonight's game has bigger implications than last Wednesday's monstrous Roger Centre affair -- at least from a competitive standpoint -- it certainly won't feel like it.

    Toronto pulled in nearly 48,000 fans for the first leg of this tie, but as has been widely reported/debated/scorned, LA will only max out at 7,500 hardy souls for the return leg. If they're lucky.

    Regardless of the small-time feel of playing tonight's match in front of assorted friends and family, the game is massive.

    And more importantly for TFC, the game is winnable.


    And win they must. Sure, the Reds could technically advance with a high scoring draw (2-2 sends the match to extra time, 3-3 or higher gives Toronto the aggregate on away goals), but the practicality of going blow-for-blow with a team loaded with offensive talent and actually prevailing is marginal, especially away from home.

    The smart thing for TFC to do is to win outright, and against LA's tired legs, that outcome is a distinct possibility.

    Bruce Arena gambled over the weekend by playing most of his preferred starting XI in the Galaxy's league opener against Salt Lake. Nine of the eleven in LA's starting lineup had also kicked off just three days previous in the emotionally-charged match in Toronto, and, after a hard-fought first half, they fell apart in the final 20 minutes of the RSL match, losing 3-1 to a depleted-but-motivated opponent.

    Fast forward four days and Los Angeles now has to face a rested TFC side in what will likely be another high-octane contest. Arena has gone on record stating that he plans to change up his roster for tonight's game, but the LA coach is a creature of habit and will probably throw his big guns into the fire anyway.

    Arena will also likely employ an even tighter counter-attacking game than usual, as is prudent when a team -- the home team -- has the edge on aggregate. That means a potentially frustrating night for TFC fans as they watch their team attempt to break down a notoriously stingy defence with even more reason to conserve energy than normal.

    ccs-54-140264012184_thumb.jpgWhat Toronto does have going for it, other than the obvious rest advantage, is the returning Julian de Guzman, who will look to give the stagnant TFC midfield a boost at its most needy hour. With Torsten Frings playing organizer to a (perpetually) patchwork defence, the Reds had almost no link-up play in the midfield last week, and de Guzman is just the man to remedy that.

    A feisty JDG could provide that certain something that was obviously absent at the Rogers Centre, as long as he shows up to play.

    Not to be forgotten is Nick Soolsma, who like de Guzman will be available for selection following a suspension from the first leg. The Dutchman's comfort on the ball and ability to whip in a quality cross could see him placed into the starting lineup in place of Joao Plata, who was ineffective after a great opening 20 minutes last week.

    If Soolsma starts, Plata could be used as a late weapon to be unleashed upon LA's even more tired legs as the game progresses.

    Apart from the two returnees, don't look for Winter to tinker with his starting squad too much. Neither Ryan Johnson nor Danny Koevermans are in danger of losing their spots, and young Luis Silva has certainly earned the right to start in his hometown.

    The backline doesn't look to change at all, and, after a couple of blunders last Wednesday, Stefan Frei will be given the chance to put in a less eventful 90 minutes in goal.

    It's all or nothing for TFC tonight, and for once, it doesn't look like "nothing" is a surefire bet.

    Projected lineups:

    Los Angeles Galaxy


    Franklin ----- Boyens ----- DeLaGarza ----- Dunivant

    Donovan ----- Beckham ----- Juninho ----- Magee

    Buddle ----- Keane

    Toronto FC


    Harden ----- Frings ----- Aceval

    Eckersley ----- Silva ----- De Guzman ----- Morgan

    Soolsma----- Koevermans ----- Johnson

    Los Angeles Galaxy v. Toronto FC

    Wednesday, March 14, 2012. 7:00pm PDT / 10:00pm EDT.

    Home Depot Center. Carson, CA.

    Watch: Rogers Sportsnet One, Sportsnet.ca, CONCACAF.com

    Listen: Sportsnet 590 The Fan, FAN590.com

    Rudi Schuller contributes Toronto FC, MLS, and Canadian national team content to the 24th Minute. He is MLSsoccer.com's beat writer for all things concerning Canada's men's national teams, and he has spent time as soccer editor for Reuters' online publications. He has also contributed to Goal.com and other soccer media. Follow Rudi on Twitter, @RudiSchuller.

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