Toronto FC vs Orlando City SC: Statement game for Vanney, TFC.

Orlando City meets Miami Gatos

Orlando City meets Miami Gatos

9 Wins, 6 ties and 9 defeats, 33 points and sitting comfortably in a playoff place with games in hand. Such was TFC’s position last season after 24 games, and in ‘a results based business’ as Tim Bezbatchenko said and faithful reporters dutifully reported and argued, that was more than reason enough for Ryan Nelsen to be fired.  Going into the 24th game of this season, TFC have 9 wins, 4 ties and 10 defeats, for 31 points, sitting comfortably-ish in a playoff position (thank god for that 6th spot) with games in hand. Anything less than a win here and Greg Vanney will actually have a worse record than Nelsen, with a more expensive team featuring a player who’s having an almost consensus league MVP season.

Of course the argument later developed into how the results were trending downward for Nelsen, so let’s look at that. The last 5 games, he had 7 points, 2015 TFC have 4. The last 10 games? 12 points for 2014, 12 for 2015, once again all very similar.

The narrative also included how terrible the performance vs New England was in Nelsen’s last game as proof of a coach that had lost the dressing room and thus needed to be replaced, I’d argue last week’s loss in New Jersey was just as incoherent and lacking effort as that game was, so again, how have things actually improved?

I’m not actually arguing that Greg Vanney should be fired here, another mid season hiring with a replacement bumped up from within would help no more than it did last year when Vanney took over and made things much worse. It’s a decision that should come at the end of the season where if necessary there’s a chance to hire a replacement with a much better record than anyone we’ve seen here so far in Toronto.  But it’s definitely a conversation worth having, and these next two games could go a long way to securing Vanney’s position, as well as telling us more about just what kind of team Toronto are and more importantly go a long way to deciding playoff positioning.

Orlando and Montreal are the two rivals for those last two playoff spots (possibly 3, I think Columbus have been inconsistent enough to be included in a 4 way race for the last 3 spots, New England have fixed themselves so I’m now considering them definite top 3 material, and New York City’s schedule is very tough so I don’t think they’ll be in the mix, DC and New York, Philly and Chicago are all long gone in their own ways). Win these two games and TFC will have not only surpassed Nelsen’s record, and quieted a lot of the talk around Vanney’s future but also be practically guaranteed a playoff spot, and with a good chance of a home wild card game as well.  Hell, looking at just this game and a win here would put them 6 points ahead of Orlando, surely more than enough. Lose them both and it’s serious panic time with only a 3 game stretch in September where TFC play Colorado, Philadelphia and Chicago, all at home, providing any hope at all. More than likely we’ll get a mixed bag and continue muddling our way along to a 5th or 6th position and a wild card away game to a good team which we’ll lose.

It’ll also help give us a good idea of just where TFC’s at as a team. So far, especially over the last couple of months TFC have shown they’re not a team good enough to compete with the really good teams, but all season, and even within this recent poor stretch, they’ve (Giovinco willing) shown themselves good enough to beat the poor teams. This last 8 game stretch though, with it’s 22 goals conceded and only very poor Philadelphia and Orlando sides beaten does beg the question of just what level of team are TFC actually capable of beating right now, of looking good against, of putting in a respectable defensive showing against? Just how low is that bar?

Montreal will be the bigger test, but Orlando right now is a team anyone who considers themselves a playoff contender absolutely has to beat. They’ve been horrible for just as long as TFC have, since July 4th they’ve played 7 MLS games, and got 4 points and conceded 19 goals (and still they’re very much in the playoff race, yay east.) Yes Kaka was missing for the last game here, but he’s been there for most of that run, and not changed much at all, last week they got absolutely hammered by a Seattle team that was on a terrible run of it’s own.  Defensively, Aurelien Collin has proved to be about as effective as Damien Perquis, and new signing David Mateos’ impact so far has been at Ahmed Kantari levels of weak. They have plenty of injuries and also have two players suspended for this game, Tyler Turner and Darwin Ceren. Obviously there are no guarantees, and too much should never be read into one game, but if TFC can’t beat Orlando, then that’s a lot more worrying than the last two defeats at the hands of the league’s elite in SKC and NYRB.

Of course TFC did beat Orlando recently, a very enjoyable 4-1 thumping back on August 5th, though you’d expect Orlando to have learnt from that. At the very least you’d expect them to pay more attention to Giovinco rather than leaving Collin isolated against him so often. Getting the first goal to force Orlando to chase the game could be crucial here.

I’d expect a familiar 4-4-2 diamond to be rolled out again by Vanney, it proved very effective against Orlando last time so why try re-invent the wheel? The key to that formation is of course the full backs, and the last two games showed how an aggressive press can force the full backs deeper than usual and expose the lack of width in the midfield in general. In both games TFC looked much better after bringing on wide attackers in Dan Lovitz and Herculez Gomez, but that shouldn’t be necessary here, the full backs should have the freedom to get forward and help provide that width.

The other storylines going into this one are the increasing worries over Jozy Altidore’s form as he continues to look invisible and not a little sullen since coming back from the Gold Cup, he did score twice in Orlando earlier this year, so hopefully can do similar again here and also the goalkeeper situation.  Chris Konopka’s 45 minute run out for TFC II midweek looks like a very obvious warm up stint to get him in game shape but actually giving him the starting job would be a very risky move. Compared to the last couple of week’s this game is a much more attractive option, against a struggling team that probably isn’t going to want to take too many risks and is probably hoping to escape with a low scoring draw.  A perfect opportunity for Joe Bendik to get a win, and maybe even a clean sheet under his belt to let him go forward with a bit of confidence. If that doesn’t work out then Konopka’s available as an alternative. If you move Konopka in however and he doesn’t play well, then what are you going to do, go back to the goalie whose confidence you wrecked by dropping him?  That’s quite the gamble to take, and I’d say an unnecessary one, TFC have much bigger problems than in goal, it would be unfair to blame either Bendik or Konopka for what’s happened in these last few games.

As for a prediction, I’ll go with a fairly comfortable 3-1 win for Toronto, a couple for Giovinco (if he can terrorise Collin again, that’d be particularly enjoyable) and one for Herculez Gomez and Orlando’s goal will by Cyle Larin breaking the rookie record, which we’d all kind of enjoy as well, so good times all round.

At the very least, there’s the Ex, and hey maybe Tally Hall’s team crest will actually be here this time.




Author: Duncan Fletcher

Blogging journeyman formerly of Cruel Geography and Waking the Red, also briefly with Sportsnet and every now and then with the Guardian. As a supporter of Darlington, TFC, England and Canada, football's been unfair and poking fun at Duncan for decades now, so it's only fair he does the same right back at it. Follow him on twitter @duncandfletcher

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