After all the build-up to Sunday’s home opener versus Houston, including resting players versus Montreal in the cup to keep them fresh, the air was let out of TFC’s balloon during an insipid first 75 minutes last weekend. That seems to have erased memories of the strong finish to TFC’s road trip to start the season. Three wins from seven road matches, even against Eastern weaklings such as Philadelphia, is still a good road record for any MLS team.
Arguably, Greg Vanney even seems to have found a tactical set-up that suits the players he has available, at least for road games: protect a wobbly defence deep with two deep lines of four, and let the DP’s create offense on their own in the space opponents leave behind their midfield. In away games, where the opponent is expected to carry the game to TFC, it’s a perfectly acceptable tactic, and bore fruit in Philadelphia and Orlando. The style didn’t work at home to Houston, but home games may require a different answer to a different problem.
It shouldn’t be ignored that TFC’s best result of the season, an away win to start the year in Vancouver, came against a team that has gone from strength-to-strength since. The Whitecaps are looking like a solid MLS playoff team, and maybe even a Supporter’s Shield contender. If Toronto were heading to BC Place this weekend, would many fans be expecting a result? Yet TFC already grabbed three points there on the road this year.
For their part, New England only managed a draw in their last match in Florida, versus the same Orlando side that TFC beat in the Citrus Bowl two weeks ago. Admittedly, however, the Revs were leading that match 2-0 heading into the final quarter of the game, and a win would have been their fourth on the trot.
In the likely absence of 2013 MLS Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves, Jermaine Jones’ conversion to an emergency central defender may continue. That switch has worked out for the Revs, but it does limit the influence the American can have on a game. When the Revs were at their best late last season, on the run that swept them to an MLS Cup Final appearance, Jones was dominating matches in central midfield and allowing freedom for the attackers in New England’s set-up.
For TFC, the line-up question is whether Greg Vanney will hand Mark Bloom his first start of the season at right fullback, or persist with Justin Morrow. Bloom has been injured so far this season, often not even travelling with the team, and fans have been calling for his inclusion since Warren Creavalle’s misadventures in the position began the year. Morrow seems to have stabilized things, and switching him to his natural position of left back would bump the re-emergent Ashtone Morgan to the bench. Vanney may prefer to wait to reintegrate Bloom as opportunity or need allow.
Fireworks were lit off at the end of Toronto’s match against the Montreal Impact Wednesday night at BMO Field, but it didn’t lift the mood. The Reds had won on the night, but were eliminated from the Canadian Championship due to the away goals tiebreaker. It will be another year without a Voyageur’s Cup, the only real trophy Toronto FC have lifted. That means TFC’s entire season is now about one thing only: finally qualifying for the MLS postseason. With the bottom of the East so awful, a loss in New England wouldn’t seriously damage those chances. Why it should be acceptable is another question.