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  • Preseason preview: Toronto FC v. Orlando City SC


    ccs-54-140264011777_thumb.gifThere's an old saying that says a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

    On Saturday, Toronto FC begins its 2012 journey -- a long, winding season that could span over 50 competitive games when all is said and done -- when the team steps onto the pitch for its first real preseason match of the year.

    Yes, there was that 5-1 drubbing of a bunch of university kids last week, along with a high-scoring draw against a separate bunch of college-rs a few days ago, but for all intents and purposes, tomorrow's game against Orlando City will be the first real litmus test for the slightly re-tooled and "stable" TFC side that Aron Winter has constructed.

    And while preseason games should be taken for what they are -- high-paced practices held under game-like conditions -- to say that there is a lot riding on this upcoming campaign for all involved with TFC is an understatement.

    Expectations are higher than ever for the Reds heading into 2012, and Saturday's scrimmage will finally provide the club's legion of fans a first glimpse at what the team will look like going forward.

    No pressure.


    With just 11 days between Saturday's Disney kick-about and the mega-season opener at Rogers Centre versus Los Angeles, there isn't a whole lot of time for Winter et al to form a cohesive unit. Of course, many of the key components will already have established a familiarity with one another after last year's mid-summer overhaul, but several important additions will have just over a week more to gel with their rest of their mates before the games start to count for real.

    When considering that two of the highest-profile newcomers, Miguel Aceval and Geovanny Caicedo, have been tasked to help fill the Lake Ontario-sized hole in TFC's backline, one has to hope that Winter's unique preseason strategy -- the team trained exclusively on its own for three weeks in Toronto while the rest of the league stocked up on exhibition matches -- will pay off, and quickly.

    Regardless, Saturday's game against the local pro side is part of that strategy, so it's reasonable to assume that Aceval and Caicedo will see ample time in this, one of Toronto's three (or four, depending on how well the team does in the tourney) final preseason matches.

    A couple of players we won't see are Julian de Guzman and Ryan Johnson, as each player is with his respective national team. Their absences should allow more minutes for the likes of Terry Dunfield (who may start in JDG's spot on March 7th vs. LA) and Reggie Lambe, along with Matt Stinson and Nick Soolsma.

    It's highly unlikely that Winter gives anyone a full 90 minute run-out against Orlando, so those viewing should get a good look at much of TFC's player pool. Last year, the Reds failed to score against the same opposition, so anything better than a 1-0 loss would technically be an improvement.

    But expectations are higher this year, so while a drubbing of the third-tier opponent shouldn't be expected, a faltering, choppy performance due to lack of familiarity cannot be accepted.

    It's too late for that.

    Orlando City SC v. Toronto FC

    Saturday, February 25, 2012. 6:00pm ET.

    ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Lake Buena Vista, Fl.

    Webcast: MLSsoccer.com, TorontoFC.ca

    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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