MLS Weekend Preview: Toronto FC enters the next stage with expanded BMO Field
Toronto FC spent the better part of two months trying to survive away from BMO Field as the construction crews did their work. The arduous journey took its toll — particularly when the Reds lost four straight matches right in the middle of it — and yet the payoff at the end might just make the entire excursion worthwhile.
Everything surrounding the club is geared toward securing a postseason berth for the first time at the end of this campaign, but there is a need to contemplate the future as well. TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko laid the foundation for it when he signed Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco to long-term contracts during the winter. The pieces are in place to create a durable foundation and rely upon it in the years to follow.
Those same measures now apply to the infrastructure off the field. TFC unveiled a top-notch training facility at Downsview three years ago to supply a base of operations for the first team and the youth academy. The first stage of renovations at BMO Field — a $65 million CAD ($53.7 million USD) project to add 8,400 new seats and create 12 new suites, according to the club — reinforces the desire to enhance the structure of the club over the long term.
It is a considerable statement of intent from a club already operating in the upper echelons of the league off the field. BMO Field served its purpose during the first few years of its existence, but TFC outgrew its basic functions. There are other considerations at work here as TFC investor/operators MLSE plot for the future (including the prospect of groundsharing with the CFL Argonauts in the future), but the desire to push the club forward ranks foremost among them.
By investing in the underpinnings of the club, TFC positions itself to sustain its off-the-field might and transfer that success into the resources necessary to thrive on the field. It is now incumbent on this core of players to make the best possible use of the advantages afforded in order to ensure all of the hard work does not go to waste.
Orlando City — New England Revolution, Friday, 8:00p.m. ET (Univision Deportes)
The loss of Kevin Molino (right ACL tear) will force Orlando City coach Adrian Heath to reassess his lineup moving forward. Brek Shea will likely push into midfield and leave the left back duties to Luke Boden for the moment. Heath will hope Shea provides more end product than Molino did in the final third, but the veteran manager also knows his squad is a bit more exposed now without the services of the former USL MVP. Boden and that Orlando City back four must keep their shape carefully when the ball turns over to avoid getting sliced apart by a mobile Revolution side.
Colorado Rapids — San Jose Earthquakes, Friday, 10:00p.m. ET (Univision Deportes)
Rapids manager Pablo Mastroeni received good news in midweek when Kevin Doyle agreed to terms to settle his contract with Wolves and sign up with Colorado ahead of schedule. Doyle looms as a potential solution to the issues up front when he joins the Rapids later this month, but Mastroeni and the Rapids must do something in the interim to translate those positive spells into victories. Colorado enters this game in desperate to end a 10-match home winless streak stretching all the way back to July (a draw or defeat here breaks a tie with the 2011 Chicago Fire and sets a new league record for most consecutive home matches without a win), but the Earthquakes — fresh off an opportunistic 1-0 victory in Houston on Tuesday — will not give away the points easily.
Chicago Fire — Real Salt Lake, Saturday, 3:00p.m. ET
RSL coach Jeff Cassar returned to four in the midfield in time for the rain-soaked 0-0 draw with LA Galaxy on Wednesday. It produced a rather marginal improvement with RSL still unable to conjure the final ball or pose a threat on a regular basis against the organized Galaxy defense. The focus at Toyota Park rests with the need to combine that endeavor with the proper defensive spacing to mitigate the Fire’s threat on the break. Chicago coach Frank Yallop must tinker with his side to address the lack of sharpness in front of goal and compensate for the absence of the suspended David Accam.
Montréal Impact — Portland Timbers, Saturday, 4:00p.m. ET (RDS2)
The league calendar finally resumes for the CONCACAF Champions League finalists. There is a lot of ground to make up given the disinterested displays in the first four matches, but the Impact at least enter this match against the Timbers fresh off a 1-0 victory over Toronto FC in the first leg of their Canadian Championship tie on Wednesday. Impact coach Frank Klopas must assess his options — particularly in midfield — to combat a Timbers side in the midst of integrating Diego Valeri back into the mix. Portland is more direct now than usual, but the Impact must still track Darlington Nagbe carefully through midfield to ensure the necessary base for their work on the counter.
D.C. United — Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, 7:00p.m. ET
United enters this game in fine form with victories over Vancouver and Columbus in successive weeks. The renewed understanding between Fabian Espindola and Chris Rolfe makes United more dynamic on the break and more incisive when teams get stretched. Sporting tends to leave gaps when it pushes forward in possession, particularly in the fullback areas. The fate of Crew SC at RFK Stadium last weekend offers a cautionary tale about the perils of pursuing the game too earnestly. Sporting must adapt accordingly to avoid a similar fate.
Vancouver Whitecaps — Philadelphia Union, Saturday, 7:00p.m. ET (TSN2)
Philadelphia travels to B.C. Place with yet another goalkeeping crisis to manage after Andre Blake (right meniscus tear) and John McCarthy (concussion) sustained injuries during a training session on Tuesday. “I’ve never seen two goalkeepers get hurt in a training session,” Union coach Jim Curtin said during a conference call on Wednesday. The peculiar occurrence forces Curtin to choose between the returning Rais M’Bolhi and a new goalkeeper (Curtin mentioned Carolina Railhawks goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre as a possibility). It is not the sort of decision he hoped to make ahead of a cross-continent trip to face a team capable of ripping his side asunder on the break.
Columbus Crew SC — Seattle Sounders, Saturday, 7:30p.m. ET
Everything in this affair starts down the spine of the field. Crew SC establishes the tone with its careful, rhythmic work in possession and then spreads the field through the wingers and fullbacks. Sounders FC tries to play quickly and directly toward Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins and uses the flanks as a method to create more space and supply for the front two. If Crew SC can restrict the service into Dempsey and Martins and ward off Osvaldo Alonso in midfield, then the home side might find a way to profit.
FC Dallas — LA Galaxy, Saturday, 8:30p.m. ET
Tempo is the name of the game here. FCD needs to push the pace of this game to figure out ways to isolate Fabian Castillo and pull Omar Gonzalez out of position on the break. Those efforts create some consternation for a Galaxy side with some concerns about playing that quickly. Look for Juninho to break up the play and establish the Galaxy in possession (his 553 total passes rank second in MLS, per Opta statistics, and underscore his importance as a reliable touchstone in possession). If he can accomplish the feat and stymie those quick transitions, then the Galaxy might carve out some time to provide Alan Gordon with opportunities to convert in front of goal.
Toronto FC — Houston Dynamo, Sunday, 5:00p.m. ET (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes+)
TFC returns home at last with a fairly manageable assignment in hand. Houston travels to Ontario on short rest and with a creaky defense to salvage. Those issues present the Reds with the ideal opportunity to open their slate on the proper footing. TFC must rely on the rested duo of Altidore and Giovinco to exploit the Dynamo consistently and secure the desired three points.
New York Red Bulls — New York City FC, Sunday, 7:00p.m. ET (FOX Sports 1, FOX Deportes)
Both New York teams rank near the top of the league in possession share. Felipe (the top chance creator in the league with 26 opportunities created in eight matches, per Opta statistics) and Dax McCarty (the most used conduit in the league with 597 passes in eight matches, per Opta statistics) ensure the Red Bulls create some menace with their work on the ball, though. In order for NYCFC to cope on the larger surface at Red Bull Arena, they must figure out a way to disrupt the Red Bulls’ rhythm without playing long out of the back to concede possession. It is a difficult balance to strike for a side still trying to figure out how to emerge from its injury doldrums.