The final MLS Cup spot will be determined tonight, as Toronto FC hosts the Montreal Impact in the second leg of the Eastern Conference final. Montreal leads 3-2 on aggregate at the moment after storming to a 3-0 lead in the first leg, only for TFC to haul themselves back into it with goals from Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.
Since then, we’ve heard Bradley float the idea that the Impact intentionally lined their field incorrectly and barbs back and forth over an alleged foul by Altidore on Bradley’s goal (sorry Impact fans, but Jozy’s right on that one). An already spicy rivalry between two cities with a long, multi-sport disdain will be ramped up even further tonight as one club gets to make history as Canada’s first-ever MLS Cup finalist.
We’ll start with TFC, who after trying out four or five formations throughout the season settled into a 352 that has carried them this far. However, the Impact exposed what happens in that set-up when two of the three central midfielders simply don’t turn up on the day, and the 3-0 scoreline that Montreal had going may even flatter Toronto’s first hour.
Greg Vanney changed to a 3412 around the 35th minute, but Armando Cooper and Jonathan Osorio were still not really doing enough to stay on the field. A double sub - Will Johnson replacing Cooper, and Tosaint Ricketts coming in for Osorio while Sebastian Giovinco dropped underneath two strikers - tilted the game back their way.
What made the difference? Johnson simply was more tuned in and more intense than Cooper, who did not appear ready for a game of such importance. Meanwhile, Giovinco’s presence between the midfield and front line occupied Marco Donadel, forcing the Italian anchor man to chase rather than stay home. The Impact midfield is great when they don’t have to cover a ton of ground, and TFC successfully pulled Donadel out of position, which meant more running for Patrice Bernier and Hernan Bernardello.
It will be very interesting to see if Vanney goes back to the 3412 from the start. My expectation is that he’ll roll out the 352 early, and if it’s not working again he’ll push a central midfielder forward. I suspect he’ll keep Ricketts on the bench as his game-changing sub, while it would be no surprise to me to see Johnson start this one. Still, Vanney is innately cautious, and may just stick with the eleven he’s been playing throughout the playoffs.
One change might be enforced, however. Steven Beitashour being removed in stoppage time was not a time-wasting tactic; the wingback was clearly injured, and TFC needed to get Mark Bloom on the field. Bloom is an adequate player in this role, but there’s no question that he’s a big step down from Beitashour. The last thing teams need when facing Ignacio Piatti and the Impact is to be less than full strength on the right wing.
Montreal, meanwhile, doesn’t have any major lineup confusion. Hassoun Camara limped off in the 81st minute, but Donny Toia might be the better choice defensively anyway, and the Impact are protecting a lead as of now. The counter-attacking 433 they’ve been playing is what they’re built to do, so there’s no great tactical complication for Mauro Biello to consider.
Instead, let’s talk about subs. If TFC forces Donadel to chase again, Biello might need to add a more mobile player to his central trio. Calum Mallace might fit the bill, but don’t be surprised to see Johan Venegas - yes, the dude who played up front for Costa Rica in the 4-0 thrashing that forced the USMNT to get rid of Jurgen Klinsmann - instead. Venegas is not as smart as the three veterans that have been starting, but he’s a lot faster, and that could count for a lot if Toronto can pry things open in central midfield.
Elsewhere, Didier Drogba remains a high risk/high reward option for the Impact. If TFC get a 1-0 or 2-1 lead, though, you can be sure he’ll play at least 30 minutes. What I’m interested in is seeing who he replaces. Does Biello move to a 442 and truly go for broke? Or does he try using Matteo Mancosu wide right? Or is it just a straight swap, Drogba in for Mancosu as the #9? Each comes with a flaw, and with Giovinco lurking at the other end, the tactical risks are huge.
Location: BMO Field (Toronto, Ontario)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Available TV: Fox Sport 1 (English), Fox Deportes (Spanish)
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go (English), Fox Soccer 2Go (English)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
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