Squad Rotation – It Has To Happen
One of the surprises of the just ended English Premier League season was how well Birmingham City ended up doing. Many experts tipped them for relegation at the start of the season and their results at season end were quite impressive to say the least. They were promoted from the Championship the season before and were able to put together a solid mid-table performance in the Premiership. They found a starting XI early in the season that were able to grind out ugly results and manager Alex McLeish found a way to get them into the top ten at the end of the day even though they gave up nine more goals then they scored all season.
Going into March of this year, the Blues were solidly in line for a Europa League berth but that is when McLeish’s lack of squad rotation caught up with him. He kept trotting out the same eleven game after game. However from March 2nd onwards the club played 12 matches, only managing to win two, draw four and lose six. They ended up in the top ten but out of Europe. Overall success yes, but an opportunity lost as well.
The lesson here for a club like TFC is pretty obvious. The fixture list for Toronto FC is way too crowded for Preki to settle upon a starting XI and run them into the ground at this point. At some stage, either sooner or later, that amount of games will catch up with a club that does not rest players from time to time. Furthermore there has to be, even though the fan in me does not like it from an emotional sense, more of an emphasis placed on League versus Cup play. And the draw between Vancouver and Montreal last week out west helps make this doable.
Preki was heavily criticized after the RSL game a week and a half ago for the fact that he rested DeRo, De Guzman and White in the first half and only brought them on at the half already down two goals. Indeed the execution of the rotation was perhaps wrong in RSL, but the theory behind it and the necessity of it remains valid.
Over the next twenty five days Toronto FC plays six competitive matches, two in the Cup and four in the League. A game roughly every 4 days is a tough grind by any means. The fact that three of the games are on the west coast requiring significant travel and time away from home makes it even harder. And the competition in those games will be tough. LA Galaxy on the weekend will be formidable based on how explosive they have been so far this season. San Jose just beat New York 4-0 on the weekend are appear to be on an upswing from their earlier struggles. And of course we play Vancouver away with the possible chance of salting away the Voyageurs Cup a game early (assuming TFC gets points against Montreal tomorrow). Throw in there home ties against Montreal, New England and Kansas City and the scale of the task becomes clear.
DeRo and/or De Guzman especially need to sit for some or all of the match tomorrow. Perhaps Preki needs to do a “Reverse RSL” here. Play DeRo and DeGuzman in the first half, secure the lead if possible, then sit one or both of them for the second half and rely upon a rested White and resurgent Barrett to provide the scoring threat up top. And Sam Cronin is rested and fresh. He definitely needs to get some time on the field to prove to Preki that he can contribute. With Garcia still groggy and Gargan picking up a knock it looks likely that perhaps only Cann and Attakora (and maybe Usmanov) will be the same defenders starting in Montreal that were on the pitch in Toronto on Saturday past.
And finally thanks needs to given today to Jaroslav Halak. The Montreal Canadiens goalie stood on his head again last night forcing a game seven in their NHL playoff series in Pittsburgh tomorrow night. TFC fans travelling in their hundreds to Montreal will probably have a chance to make more noise and have more of an “impact” (sorry, could not resist) on the match then they regularly would have as a lot of Impact fans will be home watching the Habs. I would sell my soul to be able to get off work and go to Montreal tomorrow. Alas, The Duke of Gloucester Pub will have to do.