Preview: Toronto FC (h).
Updated: May 21
When? Saturday May 22, 4 p.m. PT, 7 p.m. ET and midnight BST.
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? MLS Live on ESPN+ for residents of the United States. TSN1 and TSN4 for Canadian residents. Fox 35 plus and LionNationTV for residents of central Florida. Radio broadcasts on 104.1 Real Radio, Accion 97.9 FM and 810 AM.
This is certainly a game with a couple of interesting sub-plots. Toronto being away from home, in their home away from home... The return of a certain Dominic Dwyer, and Richie Laryea. It promises to be a fascinating game all-round. Toronto come into this game having had an indifferent start to the season. Their opening weekend loss to Montreal, preceded a 2-2 draw with Vancouver. They were then knocked out of the Champions League, by Cruz Azul. They’ve won one, drawn one and lost one since then. They seem to have turned a corner, somewhat and will be looking to continue that, this weekend.
Chris Armas' team are a tricky opponent, of that there can be no doubt. Despite that fact, this is a game that I expect Orlando City to win. Particularly if we still harbour serious hopes of winning the Supporters Shield.
Toronto are in something of a weird spot, right now. Having been forced to base themselves in Orlando, due to the on-going Covid-19 restrictions and with a new head coach. They seem to be adapting fairly well to Chris Armas' philosophy. Performances have been agreeable, however results haven't been. At least not on a consistent basis. Their recent win over Columbus, and their draw with NYCFC show tentative signs of that beginning to change. You'd be foolish to write them off. That being said, this is a game that Orlando City should be striving to win.
Toronto is a team that prefers to use a 4-2-3-1 formation, using the width of their full-backs on the overlap to stretch defences and open up space in the middle. This obviously leaves them open to the counter, particularly if they are caught in transition. They have an overall pass completion rate of 80.3%, so they will concede possession. They turned the ball over a whopping 21 times in their recent defeat to the Red Bulls. Toronto will give Orlando ample opportunity to steal the ball, which could be devastating for Toronto given the form of Luis Nani just now.
The key for Orlando, is going to be how far they push their wide, attacking players forward. Both teams are likely to play with a 4-2-3-1, so you have to think Orlando's best strategy will be to take the game to Toronto. We know Toronto like to focus their attacks down both flanks (figures1, 2 and 3). If Orlando pushes Nani and Mueller up on their full-backs (presumably Laryea and Lawrence), both full-backs will be hesitant to push too far forward.
Now, you might say Orlando have the same concerns. Which is true, to a certain extent. Orlando, though, have more athleticism in the 2 defensive midfield positions, with Sebas Mendez and Junior Urso. Both will be able to slot in, and provide cover during those moments of transition when the full-backs push on. I'm not convinced Toronto have the same level of athleticism; particularly if Michael Bradley plays. The pace of Ruan (if fit), could mean that Toronto really have to pick and choose when to attack, and when to bunker in.
Figure 1 shows that Toronto launch 72% of their attacks down both flanks.
Figure 2 shows the heatmaps for both Toronto full-backs (Laryea and Lawrence) in their draw with NYCFC.
Figure 3 shows the heatmaps for both Toronto full-backs (Laryea and Auro) in their win over Columbus.
Toronto have a number of key injury concerns in their ranks. Ifunanyachi Achara, Julian Dunn, Erickson Gallardo, Alejandro Pozuelo and Justin Morrow are listed as out. Toronto is currently sweating on the fitness of Jonathan Osorio, who would give them a massive boost, if he were to be declared fit and available.
Orlando City, meanwhile, are finally beginning to see their fitness concerns ease somewhat. Joao Moutinho started in D.C., and Robin Jansson was able to make it on to the field. Alexandre Pato and Uri Rosell, both remain out. Whilst David Loera continues to be a doubt. As of yet, there's been no word on the fitness of Ruan. He's not listed at all on the injury report, so keep your fingers to the buzzer on that one.
EDIT (5/21/21): Nani is now suspended, according to reports. This is due to an MLS disciplinary committed bewilderingly finding him guilty of making contact with the referee against D.C. Ruan has not trained this week.
Possible starting XI
Toronto certainly favours the 4-2-3-1 formation, and have rotated their starting XI a fair amount already this season. Toronto have already used 25 players in MLS, so far. That being said, in New York, they only made three changes from the win over Columbus a few days earlier. I would expect to see a fairly similar starting team to that which we saw in the Bronx, with one or two minor adjustments. I can see Nick DeLeon coming in, with Altidore supporting Akinola, from deep:
Richie Laryea might represent something of a strange choice, but there's a method to my madness. He's certainly not the most gifted player on their roster, when you consider they have the likes of Alejandro Pozuelo and Nick DeLeon in their ranks. But he's vitally important to the way they play. As I touched on earlier, Toronto like to attack down the sides, and their full-backs are undoubtedly a huge part of that. The former Orlando City man had one of his best season to date, in 2020. The Canadian notched 4 goals and 4 assists from 15 starts and 5 substitute appearances. Toronto's use of the 4-2-3-1 allows him plenty of space, to attack down the right side. He's already off the mark, in terms of goals, this season. His match- up against Nani, is going to be key for the Exploria Stadium squatters.
Toronto has started this season in relatively patchy form. That being said, they've picked up some great results in the last two games. Their 2-0 victory at 'home' to Columbus, was followed up by an impressive 1-1 draw in the Bronx for the Exploria Stadium squatters. Chris Armas' team are 1-2-2 on the season far, and will be looking to improve on that record this weekend. TFC currently sits 12th in the East, having averaged 1 point per game so far.
Orlando, meanwhile, are coming into this game off the back of their second win of the season, away in D.C. The 1-0 lifted the Lions to 2-3-0 on the season. Oscar Pareja's team are one of the few remaining unbeaten sides, and picked up their 3rd shut-out of the season in the Capitol. Orlando are currently sitting pretty in 2nd place in the East, with 1.8 points per game average.
Line-up graphic courtesy of chosen11.com