The ten day game break is officially over! Well, as of tonight it is. Which is nice because, despite the poor results and general low morale, I still found myself severely missing the Portland Timbers. It's breaks like that that make me wonder how I ever get through an entire off season.
In any case, today marks the first of two road games: first in Toronto tonight and then this Sunday in New York against the New York Red Bulls. This also marks the first game since May 20th that the Timbers played against an Eastern Conference team (I hate this unbalanced schedule). To help me -- and you -- figure out this current Toronto FC squad, I spoke with Duncan Fletcher of Waking the Red.
As another bottom dwelling team, what are the expectations for the team this season? Have your team's own managerial changes been effective? To what extent? Is this another "build for next season" season?
Sadly, expectations have already been once again reduced to "providing hope for next year" and "not doing so badly that we have to fire another coach". It's difficult to even look at the CCL as something to hang on to given the format means we'll have to finish above Santos Laguna, who absolutely killed us earlier this year.
The firing of Aron Winter and shuffling of Paul Mariner have made a difference, we're certainly a more effective and difficult to break down team than we were. It's not a massive difference though, 16 points in 12 games is an improvement but that's still not playoff form or anything. That modest improvement has come with a sharp reversal of overall direction away from the Jurgen Klinsmann influenced 4-3-3 plan. It just wasn't working for Aron Winter, but many would have liked to have brought in an experienced coach who could have kept playing that way, as opposed to Mariner's back to basics approach.
Toronto has two big Designated Players in Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans. How have they fit in with the squad this year? What is their biggest impact on the field?
When fit Frings and Koevermans have once again played very well. Frings brings the experience and control you'd expect in defensive midfield, helping to protect a very young defence, and has also managed to knock in a couple of long distance goals this year as well. He takes most of our corners and free kicks, and though they're a bit hit and miss, he's definitely improved in that regard over the season.
Koevermans is just a goal machine. We don't generally get much possession or create too many chances under Mariner, so having someone who could make the most of those chances was crucial.
A big part of Aron Winter's downfall was the fact that the two of them were very rarely fit at the same time earlier in the season, and now Koevermans is done for the season. mariner acted quickly to replace him, brining in another DP in Eric Hassli, which theoretically should work very well, though he's only played barely over 60 minutes so far as he recovers from injury.
We know about Frings, and Koevermans. Tell us about a player or two who is perhaps not as well known nationally, but is expected to make a big impact on the game. Who should Timbers fans keep an eye out for?
Here I'll go for Reggie Lambe. He's a Bermudan Right Winger who never quite caught on in England, but has done quite well with TFC so far. He's chipped in with a few goals, and has the skills you'd expect from a tricky winger (though surprisingly hasn't really shown off any great speed yet). With Hassli just coming back from injury, TFC will be hoping for goals from elsewhere, if Lambe can have a Javier Martina-esque game against Portland, that would do nicely.
Predicted starting line up?
Mariner has gutted the squad and not had the time to rebuild it yet, add in some injuries, a suspension and 5 players called up for internationals, and it's going to be a very makeshift team, and probably a half full subs bench. Starting lineup, I'll guess at the following:
Milos Kocic; Ty Harden, Richard Eckersley, Adrian Cann, Ashtone Morgan; Torsten Frings, Aaron Maund, Reggie Lambe, Eric Avila; Eric Hassli, Luis Silva.
Once again, big thanks to Duncan for taking time to answer my questions. You can read more about Toronto FC at his blog: Waking the Red.