The New England Revolution (3-3-2, 11 points) heads across the border to take on Toronto FC (3-3-0, 9 points) on Saturday at BMO Field. It will be the first of three regular season contests between the conference foes.
No team in MLS revamped their roster the way Toronto did during the off season. With the front office recruiting world-class talent like U.S. international Michael Bradley and English striker Jermain Defoe, the Reds are a legitimate championship contender for the first time since entering the league in 2007.
Toronto started the season strong, going 3-1-0 in its first four games. The month of April was far from kind to them, though, as injuries contributed to consecutive losses against Colorado and FC Dallas.
Simply put, when Toronto is healthy, they are a force to be reckoned with. In central midfield, Bradley is a class above the rest in Major League Soccer. Adding to the potency of Bradley, is the attacking ability of Defoe, who is averaging one goal a game this season.
Goalkeeper Julio Cesar is looking to stay in form ahead of the World Cup for Brazil, and he has brought a wealth of experience to a Toronto defense that’s consistently struggled over the years.
Toronto Players to Watch:
Michael Bradley: With Bradley controlling the midfield, look for him to take his time to create. His ability to the see the field in front of him is impeccable. Adding to that vision is an impressive passing accuracy that can pick apart tight defensive setups.
What makes Bradley so good is the fact that he doesn’t need to be on a team that dominates possession, as the midfielder can lay low and spark a counter attack.
Gilberto: The Brazilian was another pricey offseason pick up, however, he hasn’t had a great start. Going into the season there was plenty of hype surrounding Gilberto, but with five appearance’s to date, he hasn’t found the back of the net yet.
With Defoe likely not fully fit, the Revolution can expect Gilberto to be hungry for a full 90 minutes.
Jermain Defoe: When Defoe has been in the line up this season, Toronto has not lost a game. Bottom line. With that being said, a hamstring injury has kept the forward out of action for a month, and not surprisingly, his side has suffered in his absence.
It seems that Defoe will make his return this weekend against New England. Whether he will start or come off the bench is another question. If Defoe does feature, New England will have to deal with his torrid pace, a nightmare for many MLS defenders this season.
Can New England’s defense keep it up? The depth of New England’s defensive core has been tested so far this season. Andrew Farrell’s play at centerback in place of Jose Goncalves has been very successful, and he continues to prove why he was last year’s top pick. Kevin Alston has brought much-needed spark to the attack from the left back spot, while Darrius Barnes has shown himself capable on the right.
However, this could be New England’s biggest defensive test so far this season. With Toronto, they will be facing a very patient and talented team at a place where the Revolution have never secured maximum points.
How healthy is Toronto FC? Toronto is coming off a much needed bye week. Needless to say, this team has been banged up early on this season. Thursday’s injury report saw five players listed as questionable F Jermain Defoe (L hamstring strain),D Doneil Henry (L knee strain),D Ashtone Morgan (L hip flexor strain),M/F Dwayne De Rosario (R hamstring strain), and M Alvaro Rey (R hamstring strain). Meanwhile, Bradley had minor surgery on his foot in the bye week, but is expected to be fit against New England.
Saturday’s game is being heralded as the return of Defoe. With the team’s recent struggles without him, it couldn’t come sooner for Toronto.
Will Saer Sene feature for New England this weekend? There have been a few off-the-field rumblings to come out of New England this season. First, the team had to deal with the distraction of the Jose Goncalves contract dispute. While that has subsided for the time being, a new dilemma seems to have come out with Saer Sene.
Sene was kept out of the lineup last weekend against Sporting Kansas City for personal reasons, however as fellow NEST colleague Brian O’Connell reported this week, Sene did not want to talk to the media after training. Revolution coach Jay Heaps spoke about the situation prior to training on Wednesday.
“It was personal, and he’s back in,” Heaps said. “Those things happen. Not to get into it too much, but for me, he’s been through a lot in terms of his recovery. I think talking to him, and seeing him, and pushing him along through those games was really good. But at the same time, I think we wanted to have a good conversation with him. I think the personal (issue) was just a couple of days for him to clear his head.”
If Sene plays against Toronto, then the controversy surrounding last week’s absence may very well fade into an afterthought.
What is going to happen?
New England is certainly going into this game with full confidence. The late 2-0 victory over defending champion Sporting Kansas City showed that there is plenty of fight left in the Revolution, despite their inconsistent form in the final third. Toronto comes into this game with key elements of its game back, mainly Defoe.
Given that Toronto is playing at home, I think they will win a close fought game 2-1.