With the 2016 season about to start, it's time to bring back the sometimes used 3 Questions! Today we talked to James Grossi of the SB Nation sister-site Waking The Red to get an insight on how our opponents from North of the border are getting ready for the season. You can read our answers to their questions on their site now.
OaM: Sebastian Giovinco is coming off of a year in which he was league MVP. How will the injury to Jozy Altidore affect the start of his year?
WtR: The Altidore injury, not to mention the late moves that saw Herculez Gomez and Luke Moore depart, has indeed thrown a bit of a spanner in the works for Toronto FC and their star, Sebastian Giovinco. It was expected, and has proven true though parts of the pre-season, that TFC would employ something more akin to a 4-3-3, with Altidore leading the line and Giovinco on the left, a place he naturally tends to drift anyways.
Losing Altidore is a blow to that plan, and without a like-for-like replacement - homegrown Jordan Hamitlon is an option, but nowhere near Altidore's level - it looks possible that Giovinco himself will be leading the line on Sunday, which is a very different look from the one Toronto was hoping to throw at New York.
Truth be told, Giovinco did not need any help scoring goals last season - the Red Bulls know full well what he is capable of achieving by sheer force of singular effort - but the hope was that with a year of on-off partnership under their belt, a better cohesion would form between the two marquee strikers.
The general hope is that by having two, if not three, true threats up top, it forces defenses to make decisions - should they double up on Altidore, or contain Giovinco - while also pinning back a full-back or two, lest additional space be on offer.
The absence of Altidore will allow the New York back-line to focus on Giovinco, whether that is successful or not is another matter, and in doing so, it may just open up spaces for others to exploit.
OaM: How will starting the season with an extended road trip, because of upgrades to BMO Field, effect Toronto FC?
WtR: The eight-match road trip to kick off the season is far from ideal. They have the experience of last season's seven-gamer upon which to draw, and have subsequently made some tweaks to their plans, but spending the first two months without a home crowd to cheer you on can be daunting.
Added to that, this is a particularly trying eight games. It begins with the Supporters Shield champs, the Red Bulls, moves on to that funny little pitch at Yankee Stadium, before heading to Kansas City, one of the tougher away venues in the league.
Matches in New England, DC, and Montreal follow a game in Colorado - altitude is never fun to play at, before ending the trip against the defending MLS Cup champs, Portland. That is not an easy run by any means.
Combine all that, and there is a risk that should the road trip not go well, the club is essentially starting the season in a hole. There will be plenty of time to make amends, but patience is not in high supply here and struggles will have consequences.
It is not, however, without its benefits. Getting so many road matches out of the way early can be useful - TFC only has two away games through the final two months of the season, which is a great way to conserve energy ahead of the playoff push. And with all teams still getting their feet under them following pre-season, it can be a good time to steal points on the road, coming in fresh, before patterns and confidences are established.
OaM: Can the 2016 Toronto team handle the high press that the Red Bulls play?
WtR: They know it is coming, so they will definitely be expecting the Red Bull press.
Knowing is different from dealing, but Toronto has the tools it needs to match, if not overcome the pressure.
Everybody from the midfield forward is quality on the ball and quick-minded enough to play around the New York defenders, while both Michael Bradley and Will Johnson are at least, if not more, aggressive than anything that will be thrown at them.
There is some concern regarding that initial pass from the keeper or back-line up to the midfield - there are a lot of new bodies, still gaining familiarity in that part of the pitch, or if a defender is left isolated, but Bradley and company will be aware of that risk, and should be dropping deep to collect. Once it escapes that initial danger zone, the rest of the team will be expected to make themselves available as release valves, giving the ball-carrier options. Teamwork is how one works around a high press.
Should that be overcome, Toronto can be very quick on the counter. The threat of Giovinco will force New York to backoff, which will open up space for playing in the midfield. That will be an indication of who is gaining the upper hand on Sunday. If TFC can find that room to manuever, especially in the New York half, they may like the result come the end.
OaM: Bonus barbed question, how does it feel to know that the Montreal Impact have been better in 4 seasons than Toronto has been in 9?
WtR: One could argue that the MLS that Montreal has encountered has not been the one that TFC did initially as trailblazers for Canadian clubs in the league. Rule changes - specifically the domestic roster spot considerations and extended playoff berths - have made it somewhat easier, but in truth, yeah it stings a little. Thanks for bringing that up.
Lineup Prediction (4-3-3): Clint Irwin; Steven Beitashour, Drew Moor, Damien Perquis, Justin Morrow; Jonathan Osorio, Michael Bradley, Will Johnson; Tsubasa Endoh, Sebastian Giovinco, Dan Lovitz.
Match Prediction: 2-2; One can expect both defenses to be susceptible to the goal-scoring prowess of the opposition and, for Toronto, a little positivity and an early point at a difficult venue would be a great way to kickoff the season.