Silverware from the Canadian Championship has been a regular occurrence for Toronto FC over the past few seasons. This year’s campaign, however, is going to be more critical than ever before.
Supporters should know the story of Toronto FC in 2018 so far. Maybe a bit too much focus on the CONCACAF Champions League combined with a host of injuries has taken a toll on Greg Vanney’s squad, thus leaving the Reds in 10th place in the Eastern Conference table.
June didn’t show much progression domestically either. Only one win came out the month with a loss and two very lucky ties against D.C. United and the Columbus Crew. July can be a different and more successful month for Toronto, but they have to pick it up before it’s too late.
With time running out in MLS play, the Canadian Championship seems to be the last big hope of any silverware for the Reds in this year’s campaign. Toronto, who automatically qualified for the semi-final, will play the Ottawa Fury in a two-game tie.
The meaning of the Canadian Championship cannot be taken for granted by TFC. The winner of the tournament qualifies for next season’s Champions League; a competition the Reds would surely like another crack at.
It also gives supporters and players alike one glimpse of hope and happiness, if things do not end so well in the MLS. Sometimes, silverware is all that is needed to close the book and move on to the next chapter.
The Canadian Championship will give Toronto FC the chance to wipe their slate and start fresh next year, but football doesn’t guarantee an easy ride just because of a club’s history. Last season, a replica tie in the semi-finals between the Fury and TFC gave supporters a shock, when Ottawa took the 2-1 aggregate lead in the first leg.
Eventually, the Reds went on to amass four-straight goals thanks to players such as Sebastian Giovinco and Marco Delgado. However, it only goes to show that the foot can never be taken off the accelerator, despite the quality — or lack thereof — of the opponent on paper.
With the opening leg coming on July 18, the Reds have some time to work things out and hopefully get some players back. It’s never too early to see what both sides have going for them at the moment, so let’s take a look.
It has not been the strongest year for Canadian football as a whole. The Fury occupy 12th place on the USL table, while scoring the fewest goals in the entire league.
What’s hurting the Fury domestically is their lack of being able to force ties. It can be simply stated just by looking at the stats in the table that they’re trying to keep fixtures close, but the side have simply failed to do this.
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The club located in the nation’s capital has three ties, but it’s the severe lack of goal-scoring that has resulted in the Fury’s six losses this campaign. In fact, all six of their losses have seen the club total zero-to-one goal per game. On the same note, four of Ottawa’s five wins have been 1-0 victories.
Another intriguing stat is that out of the top 30 USL players in goals and assists, not one player from Ottawa is featured in either category.
It’s been a really awkward adjustment for the club, especially considering the amount of new teams that entered the USL as a result of the NASL closing it’s doors.
What’s even more jaw-dropping in terms of the Fury’s goal-scoring troubles is that their two qualifying fixtures against AS Blainville ended in very predictable results; 1-0 wins in both legs.
It’s pretty safe to say that if Toronto can notch at least two goals in the first leg, it will be curtains for Ottawa in the Canadian Championship.
Player to Watch Out For
If goal-scoring isn’t going so well for a club, all eyes turn to the keeper. That’s most certainly the case for Ottawa, as goalie Maxime Crépeau leads the USL in clean sheets, along with a total of 31 saves this season.
A lot of what the Fury have been showing recently indicates that the probable formation is a very basic 4-3-3. If opposing clubs hog possession, this formation allows the six players in the midfield and the attack to move back and defend very easily.
The biggest weakness is going to be defending the counter-attack, especially against a TFC side that has proven they can do it extremely well. The exposure lies within the certainty which is the combination of the midfield and attack playing too far forward. From there, the Reds can simply lob a ball to the wing which leaves only four players to beat at the back.
Starting XI Prediction: Adonijah Reid, Tony Taylor, Carl Haworth, Kévin Oliveira, Chris Mannella, Jamar Dixon, Onua Obasi, Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, Nana Attakora, Eddie Edward and Maxime Crépeau.
As mentioned before, the story of the 2018 Reds’ season is known. The biggest initiatives at the moment lie in gaining some traction in MLS, and hoping that some key players can return very soon.
Chris Mavinga has been the most likely to return early this month. The 27-year-old defender posted an encouraging Tweet not too long ago:
As far as Jozy Altidore, we still await on update on the forward. A recent article from Pro Soccer USA indicated that the American will be back sooner than fans think. But ever since then, nothing new has emerged from Altidore.
Injuries aside, the biggest and most obvious strength in Toronto’s favor is the large array of depth that they can hit Ottawa with. Non-regulars in Vanney’s lineup will most likely be used and if needed, a starter could probably be thrown into the mix.
Player to Watch Out For
Ager Aketxe had his sloppiest month in June while wearing red. The Spaniard really needs a new start and the big advantage going for him is that he always seems to crack the lineup in any competition.
The biggest obstacle for the midfielder is his lack of positioning. MLS isn’t La Liga by any means. Furthermore, Aketxe needs to hold true to his role because a good portion of the time, there isn’t going to be somebody in the forgotten space to make up for it.
Five in midfield is almost a guarantee. Vanney could play a 3-5-2 or a 4-1-4-1; both of which favor possession football and assures a good chance of victory over Ottawa.
With a MLS fixture four days prior to the opening leg, Vanney will have some room to work with. It will all depend on who can come back by that time. Here’s a guess at what Toronto FC’s starting XI could look like:
Clint Irwin, Gregory Van der Wiel, Chris Mavinga, Auro, Justin Morrow, Ryan Telfer, Marco Delgado, Ager Aketxe, Jay Chapman, Nicolas Hasler and Tosaint Ricketts.
Overall, it’s a tournament that shouldn’t be overlooked. It really doesn’t deserve to be thrown under the rug either by Canada as a whole. It’s good football for a nation hoping to start a league of its own soon. The Canadian Championship gives a little bit of an idea as to what the Canadian Premier League could be like.
Toronto FC needs this competition so it will help to have some positive play to start off the month leading up to the tournament. The Reds host the New York Red Bulls in MLS play on Canada Day.
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What are your thoughts on the Canadian Championship, both generally and in terms of Toronto FC specifically? Let us know in the comments section below.