Orlando City (6-1-0) kicks off a two-game road swing at Toronto FC (3-1-4, 13 points) tomorrow night at BMO Field. The Reds have been a tough out at home so far this year, going 2-0-2 in four outings at their home ground. That’s to be expected from a team that made a run to host the MLS Cup final a year ago and only added talented pieces in the off-season. Toronto will be one of the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference again this year.
The Lions have only played twice away from Orlando City Stadium, splitting games at Columbus and New York City FC. Although the club has played two mostly solid road games, Orlando could do with a bit more possession and a few more chances created. Having a healthy Kaká should help with that a bit. The team hasn’t played on the road with the captain yet this year.
Here to help us learn about the 2017 Reds is Mitchell Tierney, the managing editor from SB Nation's Toronto FC blog, Waking the Red. I also answered Mitchell's questions, and you can read my answers to their questions over at their place.
What is different about Greg Vanney’s team in 2017 in terms of personnel, shape, and tactics, and what remains the same from 2016’s Cup finalists?
Mitchell Tierney: There are a few key differences from last year's team, but the biggest is Victor Vazquez. Toronto FC used Targeted Allocation Money to sign the 30-year-old Spanish attacking midfielder this summer from Cruz Azul. Toronto FC's biggest problem last season was that they didn't have a creative midfielder who could consistently pass their way through opponent's defensive traps and find Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. Vazquez has fit into that role perfectly and makes the Toronto FC attack that much more dangerous. He currently leads the league in assists with five, and also has a goal to his name. As good as Altidore has been this season, Vazquez might be the team's MVP so far.
The team's shape and tactics are very much the same as they were during their run to the MLS Cup. Toronto FC continues to play 3-5-2, which came under some criticism until they turned their form around recently. However, due to center back Drew Moor being out of the lineup, the team has switched roles up a little bit. Fullback Justin Morrow has dropped back into the back three with Homegrown Player Raheem Edwards playing left wingback. Edwards has been outstanding, with a pair of assists already so far this season. He has become key to Toronto's attacks from out wide.
Jozy Altidore is in extraordinary form early this season. Is it safe to say this is the Jozy Altidore Toronto fans were hoping for when he joined the team? How has his play changed or improved in 2017?
MT: Altidore's acquisition was actually quite controversial initially, especially because he was coming off a brutal Premier League spell with Sunderland. It wasn't until late last year that he really won over the hearts of Toronto FC supporters, as injuries plagued him during most of his first two seasons with the club. There were many, myself included, who wondered whether Toronto FC should move on, although my opinion was based more so on his inability to stay healthy. But he has clearly proved all of his doubters wrong since then. Now that he has been injury free for several months, I think he is the best number 9 in Major League Soccer, dating back to last season. This year has very much been a continuation of form, with 20 goals and 10 assists over his last 34 games — both playoffs and regular season. Altidore's hold-up play, passing creativity, and finishing ability make him central to the Toronto FC attack. In the few minutes they've played without him this year, they looked lost.
When people discuss Toronto FC, the talk usually centers around Giovinco and Altidore, but the Reds have allowed only seven goals in eight games. Why doesn’t the team’s defense get enough credit?
MT: Flashy players like Giovinco, Altidore, and Vazquez are always going to steal the headlines from a steady back line. The other thing is that to the eye, Toronto's back line appears to make a lot of mistakes. Toronto FC don't allow many goals, but when they do it is usually glaring defensive mistakes. To those who don't look at the numbers, those moments stick out and color their opinion of the back line.
In reality, Toronto has established itself these past two years as one of the best defensive teams in the league. They play very well defensively in the 3-5-2, and don't allow a ton of chances. Even without Moor, who has been out of the lineup with cardiac arrhythmia lately, Toronto has been hard to score against. Eriq Zavaleta is a very underrated defender, and Nick Hagglund has had an excellent start to the season. Cubo Torres absolutely disappeared last week against the Toronto back line, so they will be hoping they can do the same to Cyle Larin.
What injuries/suspensions is Toronto facing Wednesday, and what is your projected starting XI and predicted final score?
MT: Predicted Starting 11: Alex Bono; Justin Morrow, Nick Hagglund, Eriq Zavaleta; Steven Beitashour, Michael Bradley, Marky Delgado, Victor Vazquez, Raheem Edwards; Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore. Drew Moor (cardiac arrhythmia), Clint Irwin (hamstring strain), Chris Mavinga (quad injury), Jason Hernandez (calf injury), Ashtone Morgan (foot injury)
Injuries: Drew Moor (cardiac arrhythmia), Clint Irwin (hamstring strain), Chris Mavinga (quad injury), Jason Hernandez (calf injury), and Ashtone Morgan (foot injury).
I’ll go 2-2 draw.
Big thanks to Mitchell from Waking the Red for stopping by and giving us a bit of a scouting report on Toronto FC.