Lets get to this week's opponents, Toronto FC. What do we really know about them? Well, here to help us prepare is James Grossi, one of the fine editors from Waking the Red, our fellow SB Nation blog.
Who are three Toronto FC players that Orlando City fans should watch?
James Grossi: Three, that's asking a lot given how poorly TFC have started the season. With his stunning two goals in Dallas, the first name on that list has to be Sebastian Giovinco. Quietly, Giovinco has three goals and two assists through Toronto's five matches and will definitely only improve as he becomes more accustomed to MLS.
Aside from the Atomic Ant, another name worth looking out for is Benoit Cheyrou, a classy, experienced French midfielder. He missed out on the Dallas match with an injury, but will return to the starting lineup if fit.
That duo will be the ones to watch for quality, but fans in the U.S. may be interested to see how a pair of national teamers, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, perform. Altidore opened the season with a lovely brace, rounding the keeper in Vancouver before sealing his double with a penalty kick, while Bradley is the heart of the midfield. Neither has really exhibited their full potential as of yet, so if they can get going, it will be a positive for TFC, as well as for the American national team.
What is the team's preferred style of play and formation?
JG: That is a little more difficult to say at this early stage. Head Coach Greg Vanney has a definite style that he would like to implement, but whether his vision has come to fruition as of yet is a different matter entirely.
Vanney has tended to operate in a 4-2-3-1, but he is not married to that formation, showing a fair bit of flexibility. Once he trotted out what appeared more like a 4-3-1-2 and on another couple of occasions it has looked more like a straight 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, Giovinco playing in front of Bradley in the middle. Further complicating impressions is that players have been free to drift in and out of positions as the situation warrants.
A few consistent aspects that one can expect to see are advanced fullbacks -- Vanney likes the left and right backs to provide extra width in attack -- and a rather, some may say suicidally so, high back line. The idea being to compress the playable section of the field, giving Toronto plenty of passing options, while keeping the opponent confined in smaller sub-portions of the pitch. Toronto will try to control possession -- they have plenty of quality on the ball, theoretically at least -- but so far this season it has not necessarily worked out well.
The crux of the matter is that on paper it is a sound plan -- as plans often are -- but in practice it has led to some difficulties and exposed some deficiencies in Vanney's squad.
Planning for possession is great, but the other team will eventually get the ball, and by committing half the back line forward and the remaining defenders pushed high, additional stress mounts on the overall defending. Add to that frailty a desperate lack of pace and TFC has been easily taken advantage of in vast spells in each of their matches so far.
What have you learned about this year's Toronto team through the first few MLS games this season?
JG: So far all that has really been learned for certain is that it will never be easy for Toronto. No matter who is in charge, or how much money they spend in the off-season, that is simply not the way MLS works.
But that is more of an overarching concern.
As mentioned, the frailties of the back line are obvious, while the possession-based style that they are attempting to implement requires more time before it comes to fruition. With nearly half the starting lineup new additions, the players need to learn each other's tendencies.
They have shown an encouraging spirit. The road-only schedule has made it difficult to overcome tough losses and it would have been so easy to throw in the towel after falling behind by three goals in Dallas before enduring the three-plus hours of weather delay. But they put their heads down, continued to work hard, and Giovinco did the rest.
All that can be said for certain, after a mere five matches, is that there is much work to still be done and that Giovinco kid is pretty good.
What are the major strengths and weaknesses of the team at this point?
JG: The weakness at the moment is concentrated in concerns over the back line -- injury, suspension, and the lack of pace has been a huge problem this season. Consistency is important in that part of the pitch, and having a true first choice assembly has proved troublesome. The club brought in some additional bodies in the off-season -- Damien Perquis and Eriq Zavaleta -- but depth is a concern. Key pieces of last year's back-four -- Steven Caldwell, the club's former captain, and Mark Bloom -- have both been hampered by injuries, further exacerbating the frailty of the position.
Regardless of who has taken those places, they have not yet managed to put in a cohesive performance.
Strength is a little more difficult to define. It has not been an encouraging start. Without overstating, there has been a noticeable improvement in the nature of their attacks; TFC have been far more purposeful than in the past.
Though it has only surfaced in dribs and drabs, when Toronto gets it right, it can be wonderful to watch. The first goal of the season, Giovinco slipping in Altidore against Vancouver was masterful -- no MLS opponent can prevent that sort of precision, and both goals against Chicago were well-crafted strikes. Giovinco's trickled finish capped off a 17-pass sequence that carved open the Fire, while Cheyrou's calm finish from a Giovinco pull-back was masterful.
When a team can envisage a play, and then pull it off, they are a dangerous foe. The trick now will be to make that occur with a higher frequency.
What are the fans' expectations for the club, both realistic and unrealistic?
JG: Expectations? In Toronto? After eight long, playoff-less years and more than a few regime changes, expectations have been drastically lowered. But as sports fans are wont to do, each season brings with it a new hope. It is hard not to be lured, seduced even, by the fancy new signings and the sweet words of a new day and a new way.
The realistic expectations are that the club will slowly come together over the year, sneak into the playoffs, and once there anything can happen. The unrealistic ones have Toronto challenging for the Supporters Shield, one of the top clubs in the league, dominating en route to a playoff berth -- even the most unrealistic fans will only talk of potential championships in the most hushed of whispers.
What do you expect the starting XI to look like on Saturday and what is your final score prediction?
JG: It's a little early in the week to be definite in projecting the starting 11 -- both Caldwell and Bloom are still unavailable at the moment and would likely step back into the side if fit.
But a rough framework would look like this: Joe Bendik in goal; from right to left -- Justin Morrow, Nick Hagglund, Damien Perquis, and Ashtone Morgan across the back; Jonathan Osorio, Michael Bradley and Benoit Cheyrou across the midfield with Sebastian Giovinco roaming in front; Jozy Altidore will most likely be paired by Robbie Findley up top.
It will look a little like that 4-3-1-2 discussed above with the intention to provide a strong base to quell the threat of Kaká away from home, while giving Giovinco the room to roam as he pleases.
There will be goals in this game -- Toronto is yet to keep a clean-sheet this season. Through five matches they have scored eight and conceded 11, that averages out to nearly four goals per match.
A hearty 2-2 draw, plenty of heavy challenges, and a round of duelling techniques between Kaká and Giovinco should make for an entertaining night all round.
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Big thanks to James for helping us get to know more about our new enemies.