Altidore among Reds’ unknowns
Toronto FC has many questions facing them heading into the MLS Cup final
Heading into the MLS Cup game, Postmedia Network’s Kurtis Larson breaks down the matchup between Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.