Toronto FC is a potentially tricky opponent for D.C. United, something they proved when the two sides met earlier this month. Their diamond midfield proved very difficult for the Black-and-Red - who, to be fair, were at the end of a tough stretch of five games in just over two weeks - to break down, and in Sebastian Giovinco TFC has a player capable of winning games all by himself. The Reds played that game without Michael Bradley and with Jozy Altidore only fit for a cameo, as well, so clearly this is a very strong team going forward with everyone in place.
That should be the case today, though I'm not 100% convinced Altidore will start (we'll get to that below). Both sides played Wednesday, and MLS - in its infinite wisdom and not at all recklessly - is having the teams play less than 72 hours after they finished those mid-week affairs. We know United will be rotating just as we've seen all year long, but what about TFC? It's reasonable to suspect some moves to be made, but the top-heavy nature of the TFC roster means that Greg Vanney can't go very deep down his roster before a lack of quality becomes apparent.
The diamond will remain in place, but the nearly first-choice team they sent out to face their hated rivals from Montreal Wednesday is going to require some alteration:
Chris Konopka, also known as Captain Caveman, will carry on in goal. Konopka and former starter Joe Bendik are virtually interchangeable in goal, with the only real difference that Konopka hit some decent form when Bendik hurt his foot a while back. TFC fans are quite happy with both because they're decent keepers, but if United fails to win this game it probably won't be because the GK stood on his head.
Ashtone Morgan missed the last game with an illness, but should be fit to play tonight. That means Justin Morrow goes back to the right, where he plays not because it's his best position but because TFC doesn't have a better natural choice here. Mark Bloom used to hold this job down, but Morgan's ability to get forward makes him a better fit for the diamond, and he can only play left back, so Morrow has been on the right for a couple of months now for the most part.
In central defense, Damien Perquis and Eriq Zavaleta will likely continue their partnership. Perquis was last seen by United fans kicking and shoving Fabian Espindola for 90 minutes while the ball was elsewhere, a tactic that was totally unpunished by Jair Marrufo on the day. The French-born Polish national team player got some payback recently as NYCFC's aggressive approach included an Andrew Jacobson elbow knocking him to the ground. Expect Perquis to learn nothing from this; hopefully Armando Villarreal was paying attention and knows what's coming. If Perquis takes a card he'll have to change his game, and he's not as effective when he has to play, you know, legally.
At defensive midfield, TFC has an issue. Benoit Cheyrou has quietly been very good all season, using his positional sense to make attacking down the middle difficult while also springing attacks and switching the field with his long-range passing. Cheyrou didn't play against Montreal due to a calf issue, and is listed as questionable for today. If he's out, Collen Warner will take his spot, and that's good for United. As pointed out by Waking the Red yesterday, Warner wasn't great in transition against the Impact. He's a hard worker and tidy enough with the ball, but Warner is better with a defensive midfield partner. He doesn't have Cheyrou's brain for the game, and United may well be able to lure him into bad spots on counters and with smart movement (looking your way, Fabi).
Right midfield is a question mark due to the required rotation. Warren Creavalle played here against United and did well, but he went 90 at right back against Montreal. Warner would be a potential solution, but he's probably playing elsewhere. Marky Delgado got his first TFC start and did rather well in this role, but after such a small amount of playing time it's not entirely sure he can go 78 minutes on a Wednesday and then start Saturday. Jackson is another option, but the Brazilian's instincts don't really fit this formation at all. He's too reckless in his passing and his off-the-ball choices. My guess is that we see Delgado or Creavalle, with the non-starter subbing in for the starter after an hour.
On the left side, Jonathan Osorio will have more license to help the attack than the right-sided starter. That is, provided Osorio is not rotated out. That would probably require Cheyrou to start, freeing up Warner, so I think we'll see the Canadian international. Osorio is a clever, skillful player, and this formation suits his game. United will want to shuttle him wide and prevent him from getting involved in too many passing combinations.
Bradley will play at the point of this diamond, and there's virtually no chance he's rotated out. From watching USMNT games, we know what to expect of Bradley: Endless running, great long-range passing as well as being a part of clever attacking combinations, and surging late runs into the box to provide a goal threat. That's how he scored against the Impact, and he served up a couple wonderful long passes - one for an assist - as well. United needs to put in the work to pressure him in TFC's half so he can't hit those passes, while Perry Kitchen and (likely) Davy Arnaud will need to track him at all times when the Reds go forward.
Up front, unfortunately Giovinco will be playing. The issue with such a talented player is that the little things you can get away with against other MLS attackers get punished by the "Atomic Ant." Look at the first goal he scored at RFK: United defended the initial thrust awkwardly, but eventually had him locked in along the endline with few options. You can count on one hand the MLS players who could turn that play into goal without it being the greatest piece of skill in their life; Giovinco should be the player you count first on that list. He's going to roam a bit, but he tends not to go all the way out wide like Espindola does. There's no secret to dealing with Giovinco; you just have to make few mistakes and communicate superbly. Easier said than done, obviously.
Finally, Altidore was fit to make his first start in a while against the Impact after a long layoff for - wait for it - a hamstring strain. He looked pretty good, too, embracing his role as a target man whose duties mostly include assisting Giovinco and Bradley and scoring a very sharp goal. After that time off and the 66 minutes against Montreal, I think there's at least a chance TFC doesn't risk a relapse. I'm listing him as the most likely starter, but Luke Moore or Robbie Findley both have a significant chance to step in for him and play an hour before Altidore then enters.
Off the bench, Jackson has subbed into six straight matches so you can bet on him coming in at some point into a wide midfield position (or, if TFC is trailing and rolling the dice, possibly at right back). If Altidore starts, one of Moore or Findley will probably sub in for him after 60-70 minutes. Finally, don't be surprised if Homegrown player Jay Chapman gets into the game somewhere; Vanney seems to be preparing him for more extensive playing time in the Gold Cup by peppering him into the midfield of late.