If ever there was a good time for Toronto FC to play Real Salt Lake (RSL) in a crucial Major League Soccer match up it is Saturday at BMO field (Rogers Sportsnet 7 p.m.).
Less than 72 hours after a gruelling encounter with Cruz Azul in the CONCACAF Champions League where the boys from Utah were upstaged in a 5-4 thriller, one could assume they will be a little weary. Playing on a waterlogged field for the full 90 plus minutes, the RSL players looked heavy legged towards the end of a game which seemingly caused uncharacteristic mistakes at the back.
Factor in their subsequent lengthy travel to Toronto, plus the psychological blow of not gaining a point from a game where they lead 3-1 at one stage and you do have the potential for a major hangover.
Of course, it could stimulate the one for all and all for one mentality resulting in a more positive response to their circumstances. Let us not forget the trials and tribulations of TFC who experienced an uncomfortable trip to Panama this week, losing 1-0 to Arabe Unido amid refereeing chaos.
Ironically, both teams will now play each other three times over the next 30 days with Saturday's encounter undoubtedly being the more important one for Toronto FC and their fans. The CONCACAF Champions League is of secondary importance to making the MLS playoffs. The pressure, as they say, is on.
There is an opportunity for TFC (7-8-5) to exploit RSL (11-4-6) if Dwayne DeRosario is used in the attacking midfield role in a 4-3-3 formation. With RSL preferring to line up with Kyle Beckerman as the defensive holding midfielder and Javier Morales in a more advanced position it presents a problem for them if DeRosario is mobile and in top form.
Beckerman, even from his defensive position, likes to forage forward looking for scoring opportunities. In doing so, RSL will be vulnerable to DeRosario's pace and ingenuity on the counter attack.
The issue for TFC will be finding a way to stop a potent attacking team. With Costa Rican striker Alvaro Saborio in top form and Fabian Espindola and Morales linking up well it will stress TFC's backline to the limit. Similarly the midfield match-ups will be important for TFC to win as Canadian international Will Johnson makes intelligent forward runs into the attacking third. Tracking him will be important, but not so easy.
This game has the makings of a terrific encounter. It is the time of the season where TFC head coach Pedrag 'Preki' Radosavljevic's will be tested to the limit.
First class approach with TFC Academy
Talk about a win-win situation. Toronto FC, in announcing the signing of Academy player Doneil Henry, not only outlined an up and coming Canadian soccer talent but also set a standard for treating Canadian players with the class and attention they deserve after committing to the requirements of full time training and academic sacrifice. The approach can only inspire thousands of other young Canadian soccer players to reach the same level.
TFC Academy Director Earl Cochrane appeared a bit tepid in announcing the Academy's mandate as being first and foremost about producing young players for the club. It's correct of course but the delivery lacked the extra panache that a Canadian professional club soccer should have when it comes to player development.
This should not be political. The Canadian national team will be the recipients over the coming years of professional club development of players, not the other way around which has been the historic flaw in developing Canadian soccer players.
And the role for provincial associations? Well they should now be out of the equation. Surely TFC Academy players should not compete and play for the provinces once they are integrated into the professional club academy. Let the next layer of players compete for their provincial team and keep an open door policy for including or excluding players who do or do not meet the professional club standards.
The real upside from Toronto FC being established in Canada is that it gives the opportunity for the game at the elite level to now be pulled by professional club standards and not pushed by the old system of politically charged mediocrity.