Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps continue their rivalry in what many hope to be another midweek thriller between the two clubs. Already more familiar with one another through the past several years of Voyageurs Cup encounters, it is another installment of one of their MLS battles that has produced some highly entertaining results. Both teams are in need of earning points as the Whitecaps are looking to bounce back from their weekend home loss to Chivas USA, while Toronto need to make the games they have in hand in the Eastern Conference count, and this is one that could propel them near the top of the table.
There will be questions for both teams heading into this one. Vancouver and Toronto have weekend fixtures looming that are away in tough places to earn points and they may look at this game as the one that has the best chance at earning a win. However, the Whitecaps will be without Jordan Harvey, while TFC are also missing a defender in Steve Caldwell and hoping their stalwart midfielder Michael Bradley is fit enough to log minutes. The Reds have done well against Vancouver at home over the years and there should be a slight advantage, however, the 'Caps do have the players to cause TFC's defence problems to ensure it will likely be another close affair.
While the rivalry goes back before both sides were in MLS, right from the start and their inaugural match in the league, a 4-2 Whitecaps win, set the tone for some entertaining league matches between these two sides. Highlight reel goals have been one of the hallmarks, and it is fitting this is a midweek fixture as the 2012 contest saw Darren Mattocks score an incredible header to only be outdone by a Terry Dunfield late winner.
At the point of this match, both sides have surprised but none more than Vancouver. Toronto certainly splashed the cash and on paper should be a contender, but Vancouver has taken a different route and have found impact players from South America who have made them a solid Western Conference side. Carl Robinson has done extremely well in his first head coaching role to put out a competitive team each week. The result has been a Vancouver side that, while yet to go on a hot or cold streak, has remained consistent in earning points.
There is enough to see from both teams at this juncture to formulate strategies to get the most out of this game. Nigel Reo-Coker spoke with Har Journalist of RedNation Online coming into this match.
"That's going to be a tough game. Everyone's talking about Toronto, the players that they have, those that they've added to their squad and how good a team they are and how well they're doing this year. Every game in this league is a tough game, there is no such thing as an easy game. I think people might have thought today's (Chivas USA) game would have been easy."
That is something TFC has proven to be for most of Ryan Nelsen's tenure as head coach, and that is a tough team to beat. There is one detail to that now though, and it is a recent injury to captain Steven Caldwell who tore his quad chasing back to defend against Houston on the weekend.
Bradley Orr will likely fill in that position, and while he has done well either in defence or midfield, there have been issues of late on the backline that Vancouver can take advantage of. With good pace up front, the Whitecaps would be wise to find ways to catch the Toronto defence in open field.
The Reds have had difficulty marking players when attacked at angles as there has been confusion in responsibilities. Last weekend we saw Brad Davis slip in wide of Mark Bloom twice to send home a goal. If given time to set and assess, TFC should be able to manage without their Marshall on defence, but if Vancouver can find ways to disrupt positioning, it could lead to openings for the midfield such as Pedro Morales or Sebastien Fernandez.
For Toronto, it will be a matter of avoiding the start they has on Saturday and dictating the match early. Vancouver's confidence might be a bit shaky, and with Jordan Harvey serving a red card suspension, there could be insecurities on the back line. Reo-Coker outlines again some things the 'Caps need to do coming out of their 3-1 loss to Chivas USA.
"It's about us just making sure we stay focused and keep our concentration, we've still got a long way to go. I still believe and everyone in the dressing room believes we still are a good team a very good team and we can give anyone in this league a run for their money."
This will be imperative for Vancouver as TFC have the players who can punish a team who slip up or lose their focus. Much like the 'Caps will need to have a real go at Toronto's backline, the Reds need to start the game brightly and test the goal early and often. Certainly Vancouver are looking in the mirror to determine how they were downed at home by Chivas USA, and going to BMO Field will not make it easy to bounce back. The late goals scored by Erik Torres and Leandro Barrera will be fresh in their minds and if TFC can shatter their confidence early, it could allow for them to simply be thorough in seeing out the match.
The final part of this match to watch will be the midfield battle as Michael Bradley is returning from a weekend off after perhaps coming back too soon to play after the World Cup. TFC have done very well without him, and reintegrating him but also getting the most out of the players he is around is critical. Vancouver counters with good options and Matias Laba locking down the defensive midfielder role and Pedro Morales the creative force who is on seven assists so far this season. It is a cliche, but for this game the truth, the game will be won or lost with whoever can get the most out of their midfield DPs.
In the end
This may be perhaps the first time since both clubs have been in MLS that a Vancouver v TFC fixture had them both looking like contenders in their respective conference, making this confrontation more intriguing than previous years. The Whitecaps have done very well after a disappointing 2013 to quickly add key pieces and become competitive, while Toronto have begun of late to be a very tough team to take all three points from. While both have capable strikers, there will be questions surrounding the defence and likely all eyes will be on the midfield as the two teams have highly influential players who can dictate the game. Vancouver should come out with energy looking to take it to TFC, however, the Reds have an edge in quality as well as confidence and should be able to squeak by their Canadian counterparts.
Toronto FC 2 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps