Chicago Fire v Toronto FC: No “Days Off” For Inconsistent Reds
There will be no time for Greg Vanney and Robin Fraser to drive a convertible KIA Sportage through the streets of Chicago this weekend. No opportunity for them to visit an art museum, go to the stock exchange or catch an afternoon Cubs game at Wrigley. Nope – you won’t even catch Vanney in his leopard-print waistcoat singing “Danke Schoen” in a parade. There simply isn’t time for a Day Off as TFC visits Chicago for what has become an important early season test.
While it’s far too early to put play-off implication importance on this match (Saturday 3PM ET – Sportsnet 360), it may however be a good indicator of where Toronto FC is right now in terms of competitiveness. TFC have never recorded a win in the Windy City; or even in Bridgeview where the Fire actually play – however Chicago has stumbled early this season and seems destined to be one of the Eastern Conference’s struggling teams. Quite simply put, If TFC see themselves as a serious player in the 2015 play-off game then these are the matches you need to go into and grab 3 points.
Of course, this is Toronto FC so things are never quite that simple. On paper The Reds are a better squad than Chicago, but have yet to find a level of tactical consistency which would give TFC supporters greater confidence before the team heads to Illinois. Through some fault of their own and also some outside interference, The Reds are far from hitting their stride. The “D” word – depth – is starting to rear its ugly head as the top-heavy roster struggles with its weaker positions – especially out wide. The problem is exacerbated as Toronto is currently attempting to force Greg Vanney’s square peg tactics into a circle that relies most heavily on the very positions where TFC is weakest. It is not ideal.
When The Reds’ failures in re-tooling those positions in the off-season isn’t biting them in the collective behind, there have been a host of other problems making this a rockier start to 2015 than they would have wished. International absences, injuries and – to a lesser extent – HIlario-ous officiating, have poured salt in the wounds of the club and unfortunately look to remain in some form going into this weekend. While American internationals Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore should return, albeit unrested, it looks as if TFC’s most fragile area – defence – will still be hampered.
With knocks to Damien Perquis and Steven Caldwell still lingering, the green defence seen against RSL last weekend will have to return. While rookie Clement Simonin acquitted himself nicely, the raw combo of the Frenchman and Nick Hagglund likely isn’t striking fear into too many opposition attacks. The only other change that was possible was the return to the fullback position by Mark Bloom over Warren Creavalle. Creavalle, who is not a natural fullback, has thus far been less than effective after being promoted to the starter’s role going into the season.
Unfortunately Bloom has again been ruled out and will not see any action this weekend; instead it appears that his return is being earmarked for Toronto’s match against FC Dallas in two weeks. The return of Justin Morrow should have a positive effect but this is still a young and inexperienced backline with Morrow possibly having to be the veteran in charge while being an integral part of the attack; a difficult balance to achieve on the best of days.
Going forward, Sebastian Giovinco needs to continue his mandated “selfish” play in attempting to open space for his attacking cohorts as the diminutive Italian has been the only creative outlet so far. Meanwhile, with all of the swearing out of his system, the time has come for Altidore to claim the attacking spearhead role once and for all. The tactics that Vanney has decided to live or die by will demand that TFC score goals because clean sheets will be rare; so the “score one more than them” philosophy is in full effect. Attacking absences this weekend include recently suspended striker Luke Moore – but how would anyone really know if he was there or not?
As mentioned earlier, the Fire aren’t attracting the Vegas money for an MLS Cup run and should be considered vulnerable on a good TFC day. That being said, Chicago is coming off – an admittedly ugly – 1-0 victory over Philadelphia and do have a defensive corps that will be better than what TFC will likely be able to offer up on Saturday. Most notably, and a key to any Chicago success, is the burgeoning partnership between MLS’ Most Unlikely Ginger Jeff Larentowicz and the Brazilian Adailton. If they can stifle Toronto’s sputtering offensive weapons then it may be a long afternoon at Toyota Park for The Vanney Pack.
Going forward, the Fire’s fortunes seem to sail on the high seas navigated by Harry Shipp. With Mike Magee struggling with injury, most of (the kinda almost) legendary coach Frank Yallop’s attacks are marshalled by the young attacking midfielder. However, as there is a TFC alumnus available, look for Quincy Amarikwa to get involved. In other words, this match isn’t predicted to include Goal of The Week. Which obviously means it will turn into a stupendous 7-goal thriller. The “Copa Del Grandos Lagos” will do that now and again.
If Toronto FC was at full strength and firing on all cylinders then they would likely be installed as favourites for this match. However, there are too many things that aren’t clicking at the moment to feel certain that TFC can win handily. If they can produce something akin to the 2nd half in Utah and integrate the returning DP’s quickly, then they are in with a decent shout. Either way, this will not be the last time TFC faces an absentee crisis this season and being able to handle it against what should be a beatable opponent will be something of an acid test for the club.