Tip Sheet: Toronto FC starts its grand experiment in Seattle

Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe hope to make their Toronto FC debuts in Seattle on Saturday.

Nathan Denette/AP

Toronto FC’s grand experiment starts in Seattle on Saturday afternoon. All of the hype and the money boils down to one fundamental principle: can TFC produce immediate results?

No one knows the answer at the moment. TFC spent its preseason trying to find common ground and waiting for Jermain Defoe to arrive from England. This group isn’t the finished product yet. It might not fall into that category for quite some time.

The continued evolution ahead occupied a smaller portion in a buildup dominated by the buzz surrounding the potential debuts of Defoe and Michael Bradley and the all-too-convenient digression into the suitability of the artificial surface at CenturyLink Field. TFC enters this match with ample pressure to perform well and little concrete knowledge about the team poised to take the field.

Patience isn’t easy to muster after $100 million or so in expenditures over the winter, but it is required before this rigorous examination. Seattle just knocked off MLS Cup holders Sporting Kansas City on this same ground a week ago. Sigi Schmid’s side remains firmly capable of sweeping aside the Reds in a more comprehensive fashion.

As tempting as it is to render an instant verdict in case of disaster or joy, TFC needs more than just one competitive game to adjust to its revised operating principles. The fundamentals – a typical 4-4-2 setup with an emphasis on playing quickly through midfield and staying compact defensively – remain the same, but the particulars still require some tinkering along the way.

The adjustment process involves more than some money and a few hours in front of a whiteboard. It takes time to mold a revamped group of talented players into a fully functioning unit. Most top MLS teams require several years to accomplish the feat.

Toronto FC doesn’t possess that sort of time after dithering around for seven years, though. TFC coach Ryan Nelsen and his players must produce in short order to meet their lofty expectations and relieve some of the inherent pressure within the ranks. It is time to start repaying the debts created to fund this novel approach, whether the Reds are ready or not.

Five Points – Week 2

1. Will San Jose benefit from playing Real Salt Lake this weekend?: It depends on how Earthquakes coach Mark Watson plans to approach RSL’s visit on Saturday. Several players highlighted Toluca’s desire to keep possession during the 1-1 draw between the sides on Tuesday. RSL isn’t the same sort of side in terms of its shape, but it does cherish the ball. Those fundamental similarities – if not the divergent particulars – could offer a chance to maintain a fairly consistent approach as the Earthquakes look ahead to Wednesday’s trip to La Bombonera.

“I think it will,” Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski said after the Toluca draw. “It gives us little ideas. We’ll have a similar mentality, philosophy and game plan that we’ll take against Salt Lake that we would against Toluca. At times, they’ll possess it. I thought Toluca possessed the ball, but it was with the back four or the back three. They weren’t really dangerous going forward. Salt Lake usually is. They make some penetrating passes, some very dangerous runs. We’ll be watching some film on that and make sure we cover that, but I think we’ll keep the same philosophy.”

2. Can FC Dallas use the Champions League to its advantage?: FCD hosts Sporting Kansas City mere days before the MLS Cup holders face Cruz Azul in the decisive second leg in Mexico City. Sporting manager Peter Vermes must weigh how much to push his squad with the trip to Estadio Azul beckoning. The result of that calculus could favor FCD, a side desperately in need of a second consecutive victory to establish a consistent and viable foundation at the start of the Oscar Pareja era.

3. When will Mike Magee make his debut?: Magee watched the Fire’s 3-2 defeat from the substitutes’ bench after picking up a reported hamstring knock. The injury — coupled with his lack of practice time during preseason – leaves him as a doubt for the trip to Portland on Sunday. Magee’s potential absence is a bitter blow for a Fire side that could use his incisiveness with Dilly Duka (hamstring) and Chris Rolfe (foot) both nursing knocks.

“Working this week [Mike’s] not really done much up until today he sort of pushed it,” Fire coach Frank Yallop told reporters on Thursday, per the club’s official website. “We’ll see how he responds to the work he did today, see how he looks tomorrow and then we can make a decision on that. … For him to start I think will be tough, but, again, we’ve got to see how some of the other guys are looking.”

4. Will the heavily defeated teams will summon a response?: It’s easy enough to steer a ship in the wake of a 4-1 victory (Vancouver over New York) or a 4-0 win (Houston over New England). For the frustrated people on the other end of the spectrum, the work assumes a more urgent tone. Red Bulls boss Mike Petke can turn to Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave to alter his setup by the time new Colorado boss Pablo Mastroeni and the Rapids arrive on Saturday, while Revolution coach Jay Heaps will hope Andrew Farrell (left tibial stress reaction) and Lee Nguyen (left groin strain) can offer a similar effect for the Revs when they travel to Philadelphia.

5. Are the replacement refs ready for their encore?: PRO and PSRA entered mediation talks this week, according to ESPN, but the replacements will remain in place for another week. The initial group navigated through their assignments without creating too much cause for controversy, but this second week will pose a significant challenge. Both sides will monitor the proceedings carefully as they continue to maneuver for every last bit of leverage at the negotiating table.