It will be a quick turnaround for Orlando City this week as the Lions arrived in Toronto just four days after their intense match with Atlanta United. To make things more interesting, City will look to bounce back to its winning ways against reigning champion and Concacaf Champions League runner-up Toronto FC tonight at BMO Field.
It’s a daunting task on paper, but with the champs in a poor run of form, and missing a slew of key pieces, there’s hope that Orlando can do something the club has accomplished just once in three years: beat TFC.
Toronto spent most of the first months of the season focusing on the Concacaf Champions League, which set the team back a bit in the league. Although the continental campaign is over, things haven’t improved much. What’s been the reason for the setbacks?
Charlie O’Connor-Clarke: Everybody is broken. Through a mix of travel, heightened game intensity, schedule congestion, and poor playing conditions, it feels like almost every first-team player has dealt with an injury. A few players are starting to work their way back into training, but for the past three weeks or so TFC have had their best midfielder and their right back playing center back, because they literally had no healthy center backs. They need to get Michael Bradley back into midfield ASAP, because his presence in the transition game has been sorely missed while he’s been playing at the back. It sucks to have to throw out excuses like that, but I feel like it’d be very wrong to think the way the team has been playing is in any way indicative of its ability. They’ve looked great at times, especially in attack, but for a team that often plays with three central defenders and wide wingbacks, it’s very hard to get much done while your top four center backs, and your MLS Best XI left back (Justin Morrow) are out injured.
TFC’s star forwards will both be sidelined on Friday. It’s hard to replace what Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore bring to the table but how do you expect Greg Vanney to cope with their absence?
CO-C: It could be ugly up front. TFC’s attack wasn’t very good on the weekend against New England before Giovinco and Victor Vazquez came onto the pitch. They’ve tried various combinations with Tosaint Ricketts and/or Jordan Hamilton up front, but neither of them has been impressive so far this year, and both have seemed plagued by terrible finishing. Thankfully, Jonathan Osorio is still in tremendous goal scoring form. He’s nominally a midfielder, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pushed a little further forward in the absence of Seba and Altidore. He and Vazquez will be tremendously important on Friday; there’s no way they’ll be able to score without both of those two at the top of their games. That, or Ager Aketxe will finally score that 20-yard screamer he’s come close with like five times.
Gregory van der Wiel and Ager Aketxe were two major signings brought in during the winter that looked like they would make a record-setting side even better. How have they settled in so far?
CO-C: Both had slowish starts, being thrown off the deep end into very competitive Champions League games in bitterly cold weather. Van der Wiel has clicked into the team very quickly, though. He’s probably played more at center back than in his traditional spot on the right, which is all right because he’s been a very stable, safe presence back there in the midst of a whole lot of defensive chaos. Van der Wiel has been pretty much as advertised, and hasn’t really set a foot wrong defensively. His experience and pedigree are pretty clear to see; things just seem to be calmer with him on the pitch. Aketxe is a bit of a more polarizing figure, especially since we found out he makes $1.25 million. He’s had some very strong performances, especially when he sits a little deeper and goes searching for the ball in midfield, but fans seem to be frustrated with his zero in the goal scoring column so far. He’s an immensely talented player, and every time he and Vazquez link up in midfield something special is going to happen. He’s also the only player on the team who can have a legitimate crack from well outside the box — we’ve seen him hit the post like three times with those shots, one has to go in eventually. His defensive play has been pretty suspect, but that’s not really his role. I think the longer he has to settle into the team, the more fans will start to come around on him.
What injuries/suspensions will keep players out this weekend and what is your projected lineup and predicted final score?
CO-C: Giovinco is, of course, suspended for his dumb red card on the weekend. In the injury department, TFC will probably be missing (deep breath) Jozy Altidore, Nick Hagglund, Justin Morrow, Drew Moor, Eriq Zavaleta, and Nicolas Hasler. A couple of those defenders, Zavaleta especially, have been training recently, but may only be used as substitutes on Friday. Chris Mavinga only just returned on Saturday, but hopefully he’s able to start.
I think Greg Vanney might go with the 4-1-4-1 formation he’s used a few times during this injury crisis.
Starting XI: Alex Bono; Ashtone Morgan, Chris Mavinga, Gregory van der Wiel, Auro; Michael Bradley; Jay Chapman, Ager Aketxe, Victor Vazquez, Marky Delgado; Jonathan Osorio
Thanks again to Charlie for taking the time to answer our questions.