Know Your Enemy: Toronto FC
Following their first loss of the 2014 season, FC Dallas remains at home this weekend as they host Toronto FC.
Ryan Nelsen’s squad made a lot of noise over the offseason by bringing in two big names in English forward Jermain Defoe and United States national team midfielder Michael Bradley.
The Reds have impressed early on this season going 3-2-0 (9 points) after five games. Toronto has picked up road wins in Seattle and Columbus, proving they can win anywhere in MLS this season. Currently they are in second place in the Eastern Conference behind Columbus.
Last week, Toronto lost at home to the Colorado Rapids 1-0, their first home loss of the season.
This is the only meeting of 2014 between these two clubs. Last year, the sides tied 2-2 at BMO Field and FCD has only lost once to Toronto in franchise history.
WATCH: Toyota Keys to the Match
Nelsen has been dealing with a slew of injuries over the last few weeks. Designated Players Michael Bradley (quadriceps) and Jermain Defoe (hamstring) are both questionable for Saturday’s game as they both missed some practice this week.
Midfielder Jonathan Osorio is questionable, but Nelsen stated earlier in the week that he was progressing well with his hamstring injury.
Forward Dwayne De Rosario is out for this game with a muscle strain after leaving last Saturday’s game against Colorado in the second half. Doneil Henry is still out with a knee strain, while defender Ashtone Morgan (hip flexor) and forward Bright Dike (Achilles) are out with long-term injuries.
Mark Bloom vs Fabian Castillo - The left side of the field is where FC Dallas has been the most dangerous this season with Mauro Diaz feeding Castillo the ball so he can go at defenders with speed. Bloom has had some issues dealing with speedy wingers this season. Expect Dallas to once again key in on this side of the field, just like they did a week ago against Seattle.
Jackson vs Jair Benitez - The former teammates square off in what could be the biggest battle on the field. Dallas fans know the tempers both players bring to the field, which could make this a cagey matchup. Jackson still has a quality about his play that can be dangerous at times. Given the fact that he was traded out of Dallas in the offseason, he will likely have a chip on his shoulder coming into this game.
Key Player for Toronto
Michael Bradley - This one all depends on if he is healthy enough to play this weekend. Toronto does have the depth behind him but Bradley brings a big presence to the field for the Reds. He calms down the midfield and relieves the pressure on his defense behind him. As teams have seen this season, he also can put himself into a good position to score too.
Nelsen uses a straight 4-4-2 formation that relies on two central midfielders to clog up the middle of the field.
Goalkeeper: Julio Cesar; RB: Justin Morrow; CB: Steven Caldwell, Bradley Orr; LB: Mark Bloom; RM: Jackson; CM: Michael Bradley, Jeremy Hall; LM: Issey Nakajima-Farran; FW: Gilberto, Andrew Wiedeman
Keys to three points
The hype around this year’s Toronto FC squad is real given their start to the season, but lately injuries are causing Nelsen to juggle his lineup each week.
For Dallas to be successful in this game, they will need to spread out Toronto in the attack and limit the service to the forwards up front.
Toronto isn’t a flashy team with the way they play. Possession isn’t a vital stat as they tend to beat teams in the run of play with quick counter attacks and smart defending in the midfield. But a lot of this rests on Bradley when he is healthy.
Last week against Colorado, the Reds looked better in the passing and possession game, but failed to create any real chances out of the midfield for their attackers. Hendry Thomas and Michel will need to be able to clog up the middle of the field and limit what service the Toronto forwards will get.
FC Dallas has had plenty of success this season when spreading teams out and playing to Castillo and Je-Vaughn Watson on the wings. Toronto is a team that can be beaten when you go at them with speed.