D.C. United takes on Toronto FC tonight, welcoming the Canadian wanderers to RFK Stadium for the first time this year. To preview the game, we talked to James Grossi of our SB Nation sister-site Waking The Red. To see my answers to James' questions (including my lineup prediction!) head over there.
B&RU: Why is this year going to be different than other years for TFC? Or will it just not be?
WtR: Given the years of failure and abuse Toronto fans have suffered through, one can forgive them for not getting too excited at the team's current run of good form. Competitive spells may have raised the spirits in the past, but experience has warned supporters to not get too ahead of themselves in projecting how a TFC side will fare come the season's end.
That said, there is something different about this side.
It is easily the most talented team that Toronto has ever fielded. Sebastian Giovinco is a gifted attacker – his performances alone are worth the entrance fee – while Michael Bradley has finally found a position and a rhythm; just in time for an unfortunate international call-up. And Jozy Altidore has scored goals, despite not looking at his best.
And it is also the deepest with talents like Benoit Cheyrou, Jonathan Osorio, and Ashtone Morgan in the side and plenty of MLS experience in Justin Morrow and Robbie Findley; though, it must be said, there remain definite concerns at several positions, especially along the back-line with the long-term injury to Steven Caldwell keeping him out of the lineup.
Once bitten, twice shy seems an apt expression to sum up the expectations here in Toronto. Having been bitten eight times previously, there is good cause for reservation.
They have fallen flat after impressing before, so there will be no holding of breath, but the last month has been promising. Perhaps TFC will finally make it to the hallowed land of the post-season this time...
B&RU: Has Greg Vanney figured it out, or is he just another TFC coach?
WtR: It has been hard to really assess the quality of Vanney as the club's managerial mastermind. The seven-game road trip to start the season provided a buffer from criticism: what can one reasonably expect from a team put into that awkward position by stadium renovations?
He has talked a good game – his end of season press conference was encouraging for those interesting in X's and O's (here is a link to a summary http://www.wakingthered.com/2014/10/30/7132387/toronto-fc-season-ending-press-conferences-day-two-greg-vanney). He is an astute student of the game, or so it is often said. And he has shown improvements over past managers. But every coach has his foibles.
He was perhaps a little too wedded to playing Bradley as a defensive midfielder; a move further up-field has really unlocked Toronto's potential through the last three matches, while he, like all coaches, has players he trusts and others who barely get a look in – many in Toronto wish he would give Bright Dike or some of the young homegrowns a chance to prove their worth, but time on the pitch has been rare for such fringe elements.
The best evaluation that can be made at such an early point is that he has built a competitive side, he has them pulling together, and as an individual he has plenty of potential, but whether he is the next former MLS player to move successfully into the coaching ranks is yet to be seen.
Personally, it would be a travesty if the club were to give up on him already, as some rumours during the slow start seemed to indicate, but unfortunately in Toronto no coach will ever have a very long leash.
B&RU: How have the US internationals looked, when not injured?
WtR: Well, there are a lot of them, which, as a Canadian-based team, can be a little frustrating, but such is life in MLS.
Bradley looked to be trying to do too much, which meant he was too often not where he was needed. His move up-field, leaving the straight-defensive duties to Cheyrou, has freed him up to be a more impactful force at both ends of the pitch. The last two matches in particular have been fantastic, more or less, making up for some lacklustre outings earlier this season.
Altidore is recovering from a hamstring strain – word is he is ahead of schedule, he was recently upgraded from 'out' to 'questionable', whatever that means. He has scored goals, which is essentially what one requires of a forward, but there have been large patches of games where he was a passenger; a minor complaint, given he has five goals in eight matches. Confidence was always going to be an issue given the struggles he experienced with Sunderland AFC, now that that hump has been passed, his partnership with Giovinco is blooming, and once he gains fitness from regular game time, it is expected he will be more and more involved.
Robbie Findley has been disappointing, at least in terms of value for money given that by selecting him in the Re-Entry process meant he would be coming in on an inflated number that reflected more what he was in the past than what he has been since returning to MLS. He has one goal and has shown flashes, but needs to do more to win over the fans and keep a spot in the starting lineup – a knock has kept him out of the last three matches.
Marky Delgado has seen very few minutes thus far – he is away with the U20's at the moment.
American fans will want to keep an eye out for Eriq Zavaleta, who, after his acquisition spouted cries of nepotism – Vanney is his uncle, has won fans to his side with solid outings over the past few weeks.
B&RU: Lineup and prediction?
WtR: Lineup: Chris Konopka in goal; from right to left – Justin Morrow, Damien Perquis, Eriq Zavaleta, and Ashtone Morgan across the back; Warren Creavalle, Benoit Cheyrou, Jonathan Osorio, and Jackson across the midfield; with Luke Moore and Sebastian Giovinco paired in attack.
Prediction: 2-2 draw, lots of attacking talent on both sides and plenty of weaknesses at the back; should be fun