The hype continues as the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC prepare for MLS Cup on Saturday.
When you think Toronto, you think Giovinco, Altidore and Bradley. Then you think, Oh crap. We’re in trouble. Giovinco isn’t just a brand name, the wee man has 78 points (G +A) in just 67 total MLS games. That’s right, Giovinco averages over a point a game. Altidore is no slouch either in his second stint in the league, with 37 in 54. This dominance was obvious to anyone who watched TFC’s offense in the Eastern Conference clinching victory last Wednesday. The Reds were en fuego: Altidore and Giovinco slicing and dicing, Bradley running box-to-box and the Reds scoring 5 goals and 7 on aggregate. Bonkers! Surely Seattle is quaking in their green boots at the prospect of facing that offensive juggernaut.
But Toronto needs a frightening attack because their backline has always been laughable. Defense is quite the unicorn in the 6ix. Coaches have come and gone, but before Greg Vanney this season, the Reds have always been generous. Since MLS adopted the 34 game schedule in 2011, TFC averages just over 53 GA a season, or 1.56 a game. This year, TFC only conceded 39 goals (for their first season with a sub-40 GA since ’11), really helped that average. In quick contrast, the Sounders are at 40 GA a season, 1.18 a game in that span.
This past offseason, after a 3-nil drubbing by Montreal in TFC’s first taste of the playoffs, the Reds spent a lot of time and money addressing this glaring weakness. Drew Moor, Steven Beitashour, Will Johnson (ohhhhhh I hates Will Johnson) and Clint Irwin were all brought in to be the yin to the Gio/Altidore/Bradley triumvirate’s yang.
So is this the new-look, defensive-minded Toronto Vanney had in mind? Not really. Toronto’s backline made Montreal’s attack look competent. TFC hemorrhaged 5 goals to the Impact in that series. Montreal, by no stretch of the imagination a potent attacking team (they scored 49, conceded 53), lit Toronto up! Part of that 7-5 score line can be chalked up to context: the Eastern Conference just plays fastbreak soccer. The East teams all score and ship goals with equal aplomb and the best matches feature arcade-like scores, just like the Toronto-Montreal treat. But yeah, Toronto ships goals.
Vanney knows his 3-5-2 alignment employs a very porous 3-man backline. Eriq Zavaleta is Toronto’s starting right back. One more time: Eriq Zavaleta is Toronto’s starting left back. A former forward who couldn’t get minutes for a CB-hungry team in Seattle (remember when we were trotting out Ianni and Hurtado and a defunct Djimi) is starting on the backline of the Eastern Conference champs. Vanney’s alignment lives and dies with the whole “the best defense is a good offense” cliché. If Seattle can pressure the fullbacks to retreat and make Toronto play a 5-3-2, it’s gonna be another long Toronto offseason hunting for defenders and excuses.