Winter’s Choice – MLS or Voyageurs Cup?
Saturday of next week is not only the day of the Champions League Saturday in Europe. It is also the last game in a marathon of league and cup matches for Toronto FC dating back to April 23rd. In that thirty six day stretch the Reds will have played a total of eleven matches, averaging just a little over one match every three days during that stretch. And before Manchester United and Barcelona kick off in Wembley next weekend TFC will end this stretch of matches with an early home date versus the Philadelphia Union.
In this stretch of course were road trips to Edmonton, Seattle, Dallas and Vancouver, with one more to go this weekend to Denver versus the current MLS Cup Champs. These trips total roughly two full weeks away from home (out of five weeks in total) living out of suitcases and hotel rooms.
Eighteen players have started for Toronto FC in this stretch of eight matches played so far out of the eleven. Only Stefan Frei has featured as a starter in each of the eight. Cann, de Guzman, Peterson, Tchani and Dicoy Williams have all started in seven games in this stretch. Eckersley and Plata started six times. Borman and team Captain Maicon Santos have started five games. Gargan, Soolsma and Gordon have started four times each. Stevanovic and Yourassowsky have started in three games. Harden and Martina have started twice. And youngster Oscar Cordon has started a single match in this stretch versus FC Edmonton. Borman, Martina, Gordon and Stevanovic have all had knocks and injuries in this time period that has limited their availability to be chosen for a starting eleven.
Of the eleven who have played the most games in the past few hectic weeks these players have taken up approximately 80% of the starting positions available. Undoubtedly Coach Winter, whether forced to by injuries or a lack of depth on the roster or for tactical reasons, has chosen to not do as much squad rotation in this stretch of games as most fans probably would have thought he would have needed to do.
But whether he likes it or not it looks like that time has come. After Wednesday evening in Vancouver that of course saw TFC earn a draw against the Whitecaps, the Reds saw two players (Peterson and Tchani) that have featured in seven of the last eight games pick up injuries that may at the very least preclude them from selection this weekend in Colorado. Julian de Guzman is suspended for the Colorado match due to yellow card accumulations. These three players have of course been selected as starters in seven of the last eight matches.
Now for a moment compare this to the situation the Vancouver Whitecaps are currently in. They rested seven players from their previous match last weekend in Boston in preparation for the match Wednesday against TFC in the Voyageurs Cup. And unlike the Reds they do not play a MLS match this weekend. They have the luxury to rest further and prepare for the return leg next week back here in Toronto, and for that matter choose when to fly into Toronto.
So all this brings me back to the choice I think Aron Winter is going to have to make in the next day or so as he prepares for the Colorado game and the Voyageurs Cup Final fast on its heels. Does he go all out foot to the floor the way he has done all season or does he prioritize the Voyageurs Cup Final slightly higher than the Colorado game and adjust his approach accordingly?
The Rapids, like TFC, have had their share of injury woes this season. Their potent strike force from their MLS Cup run, Omar Cummings and TFC killer Conor Casey have each featured in less than half the Rapids games to date so far this year. Despite this they have in four home dates still won twice, drawn once and lost once. They are undefeated in their last four matches. In four previous appearances in Denver the Reds have lost three times and won only one time, back in 2008. There is also the little thing Coach Winter probably is not used to dealing with considering that much of Holland is either at or slightly lower than sea level, and it is a little thing called “altitude”. At just over 5,000 feet elevation its likely that whoever plays for TFC on Sunday is going to be even more of a whipped puppy than usual after the ninety minutes.
Without a doubt I think Aron Winter gets the importance of the Voyageurs Cup to this team. The lineups he has fielded in the tournament to date speak to that awareness. I also get that he has done his best to try and balance trying to figure out what sort of team he has here while putting what he feels is the most competitive side possible on the field each and every game. I don’t think he likes to lose and the prospect of possibly not playing his best XI on Sunday probably galls him.
With that plucky away goal by Maicon Santos in Vancouver on Wednesday the Reds have the advantage heading into the second leg next week against the Whitecaps. I think that running all his best players further into the ground then they already are in Colorado this weekend would not be the smart play. Nana Attakora needs time back on the field does he not? Nathan Sturgis is young, yet he already has a few seasons of MLS experience under his belt. Matt Gold, Ty Harden, and Mikael Yourassowsky among others have recently been trusted with a number of late game substitutions. And where has Gianluca Zavarise been lately anyways?? Who knows… maybe some of these guys can surprise. If TFC was playing in a less intimidating situation against a significantly worse team than Colorado on Sunday then perhaps the gamble to keep doing what they have been doing might be worth it. In my humble opinion in this circumstance that would likely be a huge mistake.
After upsetting Cruz Azul last year Preki infamously played a vastly understrength team in Panama and a fluke goal and a borderline corrupt referee saw TFC lose a winnable game and a chance to get into the Champions League playoffs. Most TFC fans in retrospect look back upon that game as one of the bigger on field mistakes this club has probably ever made.
The Voyageurs Cup is there for the winning, assuming TFC have the legs to compete next week. Hopefully Aron Winter realizes that it would not be a good thing to have supporters start comparing him to Preki.
What do you think? Your comments are always welcome or appreciated.