For the second time in three years, Real Salt Lake will open the season against an opponent whose last MLS match was the playoff final. While the outcome didn’t favor the Canadian club, the flow of the game did as Toronto outshot Seattle 19-3 before losing in penalties after a goalless game. Toronto have brought back their star power while also strengthening key spots, and should be the favorite in the East if they can stay healthy. Here are three things to pay attention to in the opener:
Champagne is for Celebrating (I’ll have a martini)
As mentioned, Toronto lost an MLS final they likely should’ve won and you can bet that hasn’t sat well with them all offseason. Rather than a major shakeup a la New York, Toronto had a quiet few months, but has also adding two well pedigreed signings in left back Chris Mavinga and playmaker Victor Vazquez.
Toronto didn’t spend all that TAM to for Vazquez, a product of Barcelona’s fabled youth academy La Masia, to sit on the bench and look pretty. Vazquez made a name for himself in Belgium amassing 15 goals in 127 appearances. Putting that kind of established string-puller behind Sebastian Giovinco (who I wrote about here) and Jozy Altidore is a scary thing for the rest of the league to try to contain.
Walk on Water or Drown
Let me present to you a highly realistic, yet hypothetical situation: Two aliens come to Earth and have decided they both want to claim it. Because advanced alien races don’t deal with things like the Discovery Rule, they don’t know how to decide ownership over this new(to them) planet. After a brief debate it is decided they will each draft a team of American soccer players and the alien who fields the winning team will have dominion over the Earth, with the caveat that all they know in regards to the skill of American players is what they can glean from reading the comments sections of major sports news sites.
The question is, in this scenario, how would the aliens value Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore? Despite being two of the highest capped (Bradley is 5th all time), and highest scoring (Altidore is 3rd) players in U.S. Men’s National Team, the two seem to receive nearly as much hate as they do love from the fanbase.
This disconnect has never made sense to me, and I’m hoping they will both get a chance to silence their critics with dominant seasons in 2017. I just hope that dominance begins in their second game, against Philadelphia, not week 1 against RSL. If Jozy starts the season like he ended the last, the Claret and Cobalt could be in for a long day.
Miserable at Best
Part of Toronto’s ascendancy toward the end of last season was due to a tactical shift, a switch to the 3-5-2. One of the great strengths of the formation is the ability to put numbers in the midfield while remaining stout defensively and is particularly effective against 4-3-3 formations as well as the 4-2-3-1. I’m sure you’re aware that these are the two formations that RSL has trotted out under Jeff Cassar.
While I don’t advocate changing the formation for a game, I do hope Cassar has some tactical wrinkles prepared for Saturday, or this one could turn into a painful 90 minutes for a midfield that will likely be without anchor Kyle Beckerman.