So let me say first that I have nothing against "Meet the Fockers" or "Far North" but when KUTV and KUSG both chose those options over showing a RSL match, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. How can a team that has made such great progress in sponsors over the last two seasons, and the defending MLS Cup Champions be left off local TV? I am sorry but this sucks, plain and simple.
OK, now that I have that out of my system (for now), lets move on to the match. While the weather forecast calls for chilly conditions on Saturday night, look for things on the field to heat up nicely as RSL are looking to make a statement. After the toughest start to a season in RSL history, and the toughest schedule in MLS for the first 5 weeks of action, coming back home with a 1-3-1 record, having given up 7 goals while scoring 7. They have had two matches be decided not by the play on the pitch but rather by officials, who for unknown reasons are pointing to the PK spot in record numbers. In fact 3 of the 7 goals scored against RSL have come from the PK spot (Houston two, Columbus one), I can only hope that Kevin Stott (who moved off my most hated official by calling a fair MLS Cup) who will be in charge of the match will call it fair and square for both teams.
RSL is still fighting the injury bug early in the season, as Ned is still out as is Fabian Espindola, Javier went from back to being game ready to battling strep throat and is listed as questionable, as is Chris Wingert. The upside is that both Robbie Findley and Jamison Olave are listed as probable and I expect both to start. Injuries are also something TFC will have to deal with as defenders Gomez, Harden, and Garcia are all listed as out for the match.
More after the jump:
Those injuries will have TFC looking to players like Hscanovics, Usanov, Cann, and Attakora all with 30 or fewer MLS starts to keep second year keeper Stefan Frei from having to work too hard. The reality is that TFC have given up 10 goals in 5 matches and only DC United has allowed more goals (11), and I don't expect their goals against average to improve on Saturday.
Toronto is like most teams in the Eastern Conference, dealing with a new coach and a number of new players, as indicated above. I like Preki as a coach but I think that TFC has some real internal issues, you can find stories online about how the players bicker at each other, that GM Mo Johnston (the teams first coach) tries to act like he is still the coach. While there may be things wrong in Toronto, they are a good team at home but like RSL they are struggling on the road 0-3-0 with 2 goals for and 9 against. TFC this year comes down to one player Dwayne De Rosario, he has 5 of the teams 6 goals, and an assist on the other one, if you can find a way to slow down De Ro, well then you have a great chance of getting a win.
DeRo vs. Beckerman -
Well as I stated just above, Dwayne is the offense for Toronto so far this season, and just like Edson Buddle for LA, if you can shut him down, you have a good chance of getting a result. It was kinda funny that he isn't listed as a starter in the official game guide but I have little doubt that if he can walk, he will start but while he is listed as a midfielder, he is given the freedom to roam wherever he wants. I expect him to lineup behind their forward, like to be Chad Barrett, and I expect that Kyle Beckerman will be assigned the primary responsibility for him.
Kyle has been rock solid so far this year and even without his partner Javi, he has found a way to help the revolving door of guys around him in the midfield to keep a good amount of possession in each of RSL's first 5 matches. Last year RSL was able to keep DeRo off the scoreboard and we won 3-0 at Rio Tinto, and lost a nail biter at Toronto 1-0. In fact RSL has done well in dealing with DeRo since joining the league, he does have 2 goals and 4 assists against us, those numbers might sound impressive but most teams that he has over 1,000 minutes against do suffer much worse. So RSL will have to find a way to deal with DeRo.
Rimando vs Frei -
I know how can I have a matchup between guys at opposite ends of the pitch? This is a matchup of a guy you have to say has excelled with skill, passion, and heart without the "typical" goalkeeper size, the proof is in the two MLS Cup Championship rings he has. Last year he put up a 1.14 GAA in the regular season with 9 clean sheets, and a 0.64 GAA with 2 shutouts in the playoffs. Nick has simply captivated fans since coming to Salt Lake, with his unique style and incredible saves, it was the fans who last year proclaimed that "Nick is my Homeboy".
The other side of this matchup is a 6'3" 195 lb, prototype of a goal keeper, he was the 13th pick in the 2009 MLS draft and within weeks he took over the starting keeper job in Toronto and made 26 starts in his rookie year. His 1.49 goals against average was mediocre last year but for a rookie on a team that didn't make the playoffs it isn't a horrible first year. It will be interesting to see how Frei responds, last year he was in net during the 3-0 loss at Rio Tinto, but he was replaced with Brian Edwards in the return leg at BMO field.
So will it be the guy who has been in the for 11 seasons now, vs the 2nd year guy. It will be the short, stocky keeper vs. the tall solid kid. It will be the guy with two rings vs. the guy who probably hasn't seen two MLS Cup Championship rings. My vote is going with Nick.
Findley vs. TFC's backline -
I was tempted to use an ever improving Alvaro Saborio as my key matchup, but the reality is that Robbie Findley is back to almost full health and that means that the inexperienced backline of Toronto will have their hands full as Robbie will be out to prove that he is the striker of choice on the RSL roster. No match will present a better chance than this, so don't be surprised if Robbie finds the back of the net more than once, he did so 3 times last year and each of them were at Rio Tinto.
TFC lost two key defenders last year, Adrian Serioux went back to Houston, and Marvell Wynne went to Colorado. This year they will depend on Canadian U20 player Nana Attakora, Adrian Cann, who played last year in Denmark, Maksim Usanov the 24 year old defender from Russia, and finally their 23 year old import from Latvia. IT will be interesting to see how the European imports will be able to deal with the speed and talent of a Robbie Findley. I doubt they have ever seen anything quite like him.
The high on Saturday is projected to be 51 degrees, that means by the 7pm start time it will be heading towards the low 40's. Toss in a forecast of a 40% chance of rain, and maybe even a little snow, and it may keep some of the fans away, but both sides are used to playing in less than perfect weather conditions, but when you have cold and rain mixed in with 15-20 mile per hour winds and it could be a messy night. I hope both teams have their long spikes with them.
Chad Barrett -
In just 5 career starts and just 481 minutes against RSL, Chad has scored 3 goals, but none of them have come while he was wearing a TFC kit. Barrett is only 5'11 but is fearless in the box and that has lead to 27 goals as he enters his 5th year in the league. Of course he hasn't matched up against Olave and Borchers, but I would expect that he will likely do something untypical and look for the call if contact is made inside the box. It has already worked 3 times against RSL this year.
Will Johnson -
Intense, Energetic, Uncompromising, and ready for anything. Will is the RSL version of the engergizer rabbit, he simply doesn't stop, if he is on the pitch he will look to attack any ball that he can get to. He is willing to get back on defense to break up attacks and counters. He has a cannon for a leg and is willing to take a shot from anywhere on the pitch if he thinks he has a shot at hitting the net. With the injury to Javi, I look for will to play a more offensive role in support of Andy Williams, and a more offensive Will Johnson is a very dangerous thing.
Over the last two years RSL is almost unstoppable at home, they have only lost twice in the regular season. RSL is hungry to show the world that they are as good as their fans know they are, that winning the MLS Cup was no fluke, that the guys in Columbus are nothing but hot air. Toronto is solid at home but a disaster on the road, that trend is unlikely to change this year. It was back in 2007 that TFC was able to get a win at Rice Eccles, but that was then and this is now and Rio Tinto isn't Rice Eccles. RSL wins this won 3-1.
OFF MY SOAPBOX