Alti­dore among Reds’ un­knowns

Toronto FC has many ques­tions fac­ing them head­ing into the MLS Cup fi­nal

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - SPORTS - KUR­TIS LAR­SON

Head­ing into the MLS Cup game, Post­media Network’s Kur­tis Lar­son breaks down the matchup be­tween Toronto FC and the Seat­tle Sounders.

HOW’S JOZY?

A nag­ging in­jury to Se­bas­tian Giovinco last year as­sisted in spoil­ing Toronto FC’s ti­tle bid. Will in­juries doom TFC for a sec­ond time this sea­son?

Alti­dore was forced off against Colum­bus after ag­gra­vat­ing a nag­ging an­kle in­jury mid­way through the sec­ond half of last week’s East fi­nal.

While coach Greg Van­ney in­sists his star striker is mak­ing strides in an ur­gent bid to re­turn in time for this week­end’s MLS Cup, it’s un­clear how healthy Alti­dore will be come Satur­day.

The Beast has six goals, five as­sists in nine play­off games dat­ing back to last Oc­to­ber. Toronto FC fans should worry if Alti­dore is less than 80-90% fit come the week­end.

VAN­NEY’S PLAN

Win­ning “dif­fer­ently” has been Toronto FC’s mantra dur­ing these play­offs after scor­ing just three times in four post-sea­son games.

What’s more, the Reds ar­guably pro­duced fewer clear-cut scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties than both the New York Red Bulls and Colum­bus Crew.

Should Van­ney stick with the 3-5-2 for­ma­tion that saw the Reds dom­i­nate the reg­u­lar sea­son, or play the sit­u­a­tional 4-3-1-2 they ’ve toyed with on oc­ca­sion?

Truth be told, the Reds haven’t looked good in their three-back sys­tem since the first half at Red Bull Arena.

SEAT­TLE TAK­ING NOTES?

Colum­bus pro­vided the Sounders a blue­print for how to play against TFC as the Crew’s 3-4-3 stymied the Reds last week

Crew coach Greg Ber­hal­ter over­loaded his mid­field in an ef­fort to limit Michael Bradley’s abil­ity to con­nect with Vic­tor Vazquez and TFC’s strik­ers.

Colum­bus’ for­wards then pressed TFC’s cen­tre­backs into hasty de­ci­sions that, when com­bined, helped dis­rupt one of the best at­tack­ing teams in MLS.

Is Seat­tle will­ing to com­mit the same num­ber of re­sources to de­fend­ing? Or will Clint Dempsey, Will Bruin, Nico Lodeiro and Jor­dan Mor­ris be too goal-fo­cussed?

CAN FREI BE THE DIF­FER­ENCE?

Ste­fan Frei’s MLS Cup-sav­ing stop last year is etched in the minds of those who wit­nessed one of the best saves in play­off history.

Will the ex-TFC ne­ti­min­der come back to haunt his for­mer team again? The Sounders need Toronto’s for­mer draft pick to come up big yet again if they’re to re­peat.

And don’t for­get what TFC GM Tim Bez­batchenko said after last year’s gut­ting. Asked if he re­gret­ted trad­ing Frei to the Sounders in 2013, Bez­batchenko said “No. Not even close.”

We’ll see.

HIS BIG­GEST GAME YET

Toronto FC goal­keeper Alex Bono has been rock solid dur­ing these play­offs, con­ced­ing just a sin­gle goal from the penalty spot.

Bono’s sure-hand­ed­ness and abil­ity to make at least one se­ries-al­ter­ing save per game is a ma­jor rea­son why Toronto FC is still alive.

Can Toronto’s sec­ond-year net­min­der put in an­other steady per­for­mance amid the chaos that is an in­ter­na­tion­ally-tele­vised fi­nal?

IS SEAT­TLE IM­PEN­E­TRA­BLE?

The Sounders haven’t con­ceded in six straight games, but who have they played?

Seat­tle hosted down-and-out Dal­las and Colorado to wrap the reg­u­lar sea­son be­fore meet­ing list­less Van­cou­ver and un­der­manned Hous­ton in the play­offs.

Not ex­actly tough asks for veteran de­fend­ers Ro­man Tor­res and Chad Mar­shall.

I have my doubts that Seat­tle’s in­ex­pe­ri­enced full­backs have enough discipline to pre­serve a sev­enth-straight shutout against Eastern Con­fer­ence op­po­si­tion.

DEL­GADO OR OSO­RIO?

Van­ney could use both if he sets up the Reds in a four-man mid­field. But what if Toronto FC’s gaffer sticks with a 3-5-2?

Van­ney aban­doned Del­gado in the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal after the 22-year-old strug­gled in Colum­bus.

In came Oso­rio, who — like most of TFC’s play­ers — strug­gled to find the game last week.

Here’s a guess: Van­ney finds comfort in Del­gado’s quick de­ci­sion­mak­ing and elects to use Oso­rio off the bench.

SEBA’S TIME TO SHINE

The Atomic Ant earns $7.1 mil­lion an­nu­ally. He’s been one of the best play­ers in the league since 2015.

This year, though, he’s ar­guably been less im­por­tant to his team than Michael Bradly, Vic­tor Vazquez and Jozy Alti­dore.

Yes, Giovinco’s free kick goals and last week’s back heel are why Toronto is back in an MLS Cup fi­nal.

That said, Giovinco has to show up Satur­day night after what hap­pened this time last year.

PITCH TALK

Toronto FC’s grounds crew claims BMO Field’s pitch is “mas­sively” im­proved over the state it was in this time last year, when frigid temps and frozen pre­cip­i­ta­tion de­scended on Toronto. The pres­sure is on BMO Field’s grass guys to man­i­cure a playable pitch that will lend it­self to Toronto FC’s ten­dency to per­form bet­ter when the play­ing sur­face is pris­tine.

JACK BOLAND/POST­MEDIA NETWORK

Toronto FC’s Jozy Alti­dore limps up the field and blows kisses to the crowd after scor­ing the game-win­ning goal in the 60th minute to de­feat Colum­bus Crew 1-0 to win the Eastern Fi­nal ad­vanc­ing to the MLS Cup, in Toronto.

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