Preview: Toronto FC (a).
Updated: Jun 17
When? Saturday June 19, 4:30 a.m. PT, 7:30 p.m. ET and 00:30 BST (20/6).
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? TSN for Canadian residents, and MLS Live on ESPN+ for residents of the United States. For residents of the Greater Orlando area, the game is broadcast on Fox 35 Plus and LionNation TV. Accion 97.9 FM and 810 AM is where to go to for radio broadcast.
Tough road game for Orlando City right here. Real tough. Quite possibly the longest road trip the Lions will face this season. Where are they going, I hear you ask? Well, actually we don't strictly know yet, but it's in Florida somewhere. Probably. Which is good isn't it?. Yup. My innate British sarcasm has again reared its ugly head. For the purposes of this review, I'm going to go ahead and assume the game will be at Exploria*. Because no-one form the league has bothered to confirm it yet.
*EDIT: s of 6/15/21, the Orlando City website states that the game will take place at Exploria Stadium.
The squatters from the north, face-up against Orlando City for the second time in 3 games. After the controversy, and bad blood, surrounding their last encounter, this promises to be another intriguing encounter between two fairly well matched sides. Whilst the atmosphere won't be as electric as it usually is for Orlando at Exploria Stadium(?); this is still a home game. This is our house. This city. It's purple. Even if we play in Tampa, It's a home game, that's it. The only thing that's different is our name will be second on the broadcast scoreboard. Toronto's not football; it's not coming home *laughs in delusional English football fan*.
As I alluded to in the preview for our last encounter, and as we saw during the encounter at Exploria Stadium, Toronto are a team that utilises width and attempts to use said width to create space in the middle. During the game Toronto's attack was fluid, which Orlando found difficult to grapple with at times. They're certainly a team that can pack a punch, particularly if they catch you in transition. All that being said, this is a game that Orlando should be looking to win. Toronto are a side that aren't likely to dominate possession, as figures 1 and 2 reiterate. So Orlando should see plenty of the ball, and with some key attacking pieces back Oscar Pareja's team should have enough about them to get the dub.
Figure 1 shows Toronto's (right) possession statistics from their game against Columbus.
Figure 2 shows Toronto's (left) possession based statistic average for the season so far.
Whilst Toronto might not be a team that likes to dominate possession, there is a clear doctrine they abide by when they have the ball. They like to get the ball into wide areas as much as possible, which allows them to try and stretch opposition back-lines, thus creating space for their more creative players in the middle (example in figure 4). You'll also notice, from the passing network graphic in figure 3, that Marco Delgado and Michael Bradley are among the chief proprietors in getting the ball out wide (Shaffelburg and Laryea, chiefly). At least they were against Columbus. Pressing them well could disrupt their rhythm, and allow Orlando chance to win possession in key areas. They also like to focus their efforts through their full-backs, as we saw against Orlando. It will be interesting to see how high up Laryea pushes this time around, considering Nani is now available.
Figure 3 shows Toronto's passing network graphic from the game against Columbus, whole 90.
Figure 4 shows an example of how Toronto's wide players help to creat space in the middle. Their are now gaps for them to exploit.
According to the MLS Player Availability report Toronto has a number of injury concerns heading into this clash. Omar Gonzalez, Alejandro Pozuelo and Jonathan Osorio are all listed as questionable. Pozuelo was fit enough to take his place on the bench, last time-out, so take that with a pinch of salt. Meanwhile, Dom Dwyer, Erickson Gallardo and Julian Dunn are currently listed as out (at the time of writing). Yeferson Soteldo is away with Venezuela, and will represent a huge miss for them.
Orlando, similarly, will be feeling the effects of certain key absences. Pedro Gallese and Sebas Mendez have been called up to their respective national teams ahead of the Copa America. Joao Moutinho is a doubt. This game is likely to come a fraction too soon for Alexandre Pato who has recently returned to field training. Uri Rosell and Ruan could be available again*. Oh, and some bloke called Daryl is back. Dike, is it? The explosive USMNT forward is coming back, fresh off of his successful loan spell in England, a man in demand. We may not have him much longer, so let's enjoy him whilst we can. Oh and Nani is back, I guess that's important too.
Possible starting XI
With the absence of Soltedo, I can see Toronto shifting gear a little with the enigmatic Alejandro Pozuelo coming in. Pozuelo is at his most effective in central areas, whilst Jacob Shaffelburg is a little more direct than Soltedo when playing outside. And not nearly as industrious, or as dangerous when roaming. As such I can see Pozuelo coming in at the 10, with Shaffelburg operating from the left-flank, as he did against Columbus. I think they'll stick with their preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, and try to stretch Orlando's back-line with the runs of Shaffelburg and Marco Delgado. Delgado will also roam in central areas, opening up space for Richie Laryea down the flank.
The former Santos playmaker, Yeferson Soteldo, was by far the most dangerous player for our 'hosts', when the sides met at Exploria a few weeks ago. However, the Venezuelan international is currently competing at the Copa America. Toronto will need Pozuelo to step up to the plate in Soteldo's absence. The Spaniard was a revelation when he joined the club in 2019, scoring 14 goals and creating 10 for the Canadian club. Chris Armas' side will be hoping Pozuelo can re-establish himself as a major force in this league, particularly as his progress has been blighted by injuries of late. The erstwhile Rayo Vallecano playmaker only featured 5 times in 2020, though it's worth noting that he laid on 5 goals during that time. He's a creative force to be reckoned with, and in the absence of the diminutive Soteldo; there's a hole to fill for this Toronto team.
As I stated in my previous preview, this is a Toronto team that's better than its form and lowly league position suggest. The Canadian side are 1-2-4 on the season so far, having slumped to a 2-1 defeat in Columbus before the break. That particular result left them 12th in the East, a point above Cincinnati in last. It's also worth noting, that their only win so far came in Orlando, when they bested the Crew 2-0.
Orlando City headed into the break off of the back of that bitterly disappointing result in New Jersey. They're still sat in an enviable position, though. With Oscar Pareja's team sat 3rd in the East, with. 3-3-1 record there is plenty to be optimistic about. With the potential return of Daryl Dike and Nani afoot, there's no reason not to be confident.