For only the second time in club history and first time at Rio Tinto, RSL will open the season at home as they take on Toronto FC on Saturday afternoon. Facing teams from the East are often fairly easy affairs at home, I mean RSL is 7-1-0 vs TFC in Utah and 7-0-0 at Rio Tinto. RSL holds a +11 goal differential at home vs the defending Eastern Conference Champs, but we have to remember RSL hasn’t won a match in 7 months while TFC is coming off the shortest break in MLS history between MLS Cup and opening day.
This has the potential to be a thrilling match as both clubs showed last year that the traditional score first and win rule in MLS doesn’t apply to them, there is no safe lead against either of these sides. This TFC side will look very similar to the one that played for MLS Cup in December, but for RSL there will be some very glaring differences from last year. No Javier Morales, no Burrito Martinez, no Olave and while those players are gone it is likely RSL will also be without some regular starters from last year due to injuries and callups as I expect Kyle Beckerman, Aaron Maund will no start (or likely play) due to injury, Justen Glad will be with the U-20s (along with Sebastian Saucedo, Brooks Lennon and Danilo Acosta). So it will be interesting to see what the starting XI and bench looks like on Saturday afternoon.
Keys to the Match:
There are a few keys to beating TFC, first of which is make someone other than Sebasitian Giovinco beat you. You start the match with Luke Mulholland man marking him everywhere, when Luke gets a yellow card, you swap out Sunny on Gio, and if he gets a yellow you bring in Omar Holness to man mark him. You don’t let him get behind you but you also have to no commit fouls in stupid places and let him beat you on a set piece. Last year Giovinco accounted for 32 (15 goals, 17 assists) of TFC’s 51 goals, so over 60 percent of their offense comes from one guy. So to stop TFC, stop Gio.
My second key is Albert Rusnak, the preseason was interesting for the young newcomer to RSL, he has good pace, seems confident on the ball and while he isn’t Javi or Burrito, he is the guy who will be pulling the strings for RSL in the midfield this year. So TFC got their guy in Gio and he started delivering right away, but that isn’t always the norm with guys coming to MLS, so is it fair to put expectations on Rusnak to carry RSL from the start? Probably not but that is the task he has been given, the good thing is that he has a healthy Yura Movsisyan, a motivated (got that new deal) Joao Plata, and my star of the preseason Jordan Allen in front of him and these guys seem to be jelling very quickly.
The biggest key for me will be our defense, not just the backline but the reality that we will need whoever is playing in front of them in the midfield to be on skates all day and our outside backs need to be careful not to get caught out of position. TFC is quick on the counter and with Jozy’s ability to hold up the ball and Gio to get into dangerous places, our lack of CB speed will mean guys have to play with their head on a swivel and make no mistakes or we will get punished.
Guys to Watch:
RSL – Yura Movsisyan, I know most will say Rusnak but Yura promised big things last year and then spend most of the last 1/3 of the season injured. Heading into 2017 he has the security knowing RSL now owns his contract and he should be able to deliver on the promises of last year. He is our go to guy for scoring and that is what we need him to do.
TFC – Sebastian Giovinco, TFC is simply as good as Gio is, despite having Bradley and Altidore to go along with him, it almost always is how does Gio play. The tough part is that most often he is simply the best player in MLS and for me he was the MVP of the league last year and it really shouldn’t have been close.
Projected RSL lineup –
So we didn’t get to see RSL’s final preseason match but if you watched the final match of TFC’s preseason you saw that they aren’t giants from the East, in fact the Chicago Fire beat them down so much in the first half the Vanney pulled almost all his starters after 45 minutes. Their defense looked confused and slow, if RSL can play quickly from the sides and get quality balls into the area (and then follow up and crash the area) then RSL can score on them and beat them. I can’ think of a match that I have ever picked RSL to lose at home, and despite what would appear to be a deck stacked against them I won’t do it now, but I can’t pick them to win either. I am going with a 2-2 draw, that could easily be 4-4.
That’s How I See It