1-How would you rate Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore season so far.
Both players have shown well through Toronto's seven matches – they are joint goal-scoring leaders for the club – though in different ways and to differing degrees.
Giovinco has been everything one could have hoped for, and more. He has four goals and three assists – a pace of a point per match – at times almost single-handedly willing the side onwards. His performance in the second half in Dallas, after the game was already lost, was remarkable, and his gorgeous free-kick against Philadelphia proved that even if Toronto is not able to break down an opponent in the course of open play, he can find a way to make the needed impact.
Even more remarkable perhaps is how durable he has been. There was a slight fear that at his diminutive size, he may be physically marginalized in the rough and tumble of MLS, but he has managed the bumps and bruises, featuring in all but nineteen minutes of the season.
Altidore too has looked good, but his spells have come in bursts, claiming a pair of braces. The goals were crucial, helping to win matches in both Vancouver and Orlando, but the times in between left a little to be desired. He is tailor-made for this league: strong, dynamic, and can finish. A little more consistency and Toronto's off-season will definitely be seen as a successful one.
What has been most promising in the burgeoning partnership between the two, who have taken to playing as a duo in attack through recent matches. Giovinco set up goals in each of Altidore's doubles and as that communication and understanding grows, they will be evermore dangerous.
2-What would it take for Toronto FC to win this Canadian Championship?
That is an interesting question.
The unknown hanging over this tournament is how the new brain-trust will view it. Do they go for the win and play the starters? Or, do they reach into the squad depth, which is less than plentiful, to field a weakened side?
There is no doubt that their primary focus is on making the playoffs. That has been the stated goal since day one, and it need not be mentioned that they are yet to reach that Promised Land after eight seasons. There comes with that a risk that they will overlook the Voyageurs Cup, instead focusing on the league matches in a very busy month of May – Toronto has seven matches (five league and two in the Cup), as well as a friendly against Manchester City at the end of the month.
Having started the season with seven-straight road matches, they have no cushion with which to make the decision to focus on the Canadian Championship and risk dropping points at home.
That said, there is an obvious benefit to playing in the Champions League, as Montreal has found with their progress to the final. It draws attention and comes with a chance to reach out to the wider soccer world with success. The club wants that international recognition as well.
The more invested fans have a fondness for the Cup and that Montreal has been allowed to win it the last two seasons definitely rankles. Midweek night games carry a mystique with them and tend to be great occasions; that these matches are all-Canadian affairs, makes them all the more special.
For Toronto to win this year's edition, they will have to find a balance between competing in the league matches and still fielding a strong enough eleven to get past Montreal, who will no doubt be eager to get back into CONCACAF action as soon as possible. Though depth is a concern for the long season, TFC do have enough to get through this little crunch.
Going for the win in the first leg, in Montreal on Wednesday, would be a strong opening move. Take home the away-goal advantage against a crest-fallen Impact with a first-choice side, and hold tight through the second leg with some changes as needed. That would be the most efficient way of achieving the needed balance.
3-Which player needs to step up his game and be a game changer?
There are a few names that come to mind, but none is more important than Michael Bradley. When he is on his game, he should be one of the most dominant midfielders in the league, but sadly that Bradley has rarely been seen.
Recent weeks have seen a far more effective player, performances in Orlando and Philadelphia have been better. But to really be a consideration in the East and beyond, Toronto needs him to be a force and a leader week in and week out.
Others that need to step up include Jonathan Osorio, Robbie Findley, and Nick Hagglund. Altidore and Giovinco can do a lot of the scoring by themselves, but truly successful teams get goals from a wide range of sources. Some secondary scoring from the first two would go a long way to achieving the aim of a well-balance attack, creating a conundrum for the opposition, as focusing on the primary threats risks providing space for others.
Injuries to Steven Caldwell and Mark Bloom have thrust Hagglund into a starting role that he may or may not be ready for. He excelled at times in his rookie season last year, but still has parts of his game that need polishing. TFC is not deep at the back, so Hagglund will be needed to play multiple roles across the back.
4-In what area TFC needs to be better?
Defending has been an issue this season – prior to the last two matches, Toronto had yet to keep a clean-sheet, allowing eleven goals in five matches, more than two per match, which is simply unacceptable.
Since then there have been encouraging signs. They have posted consecutive shutouts, which to be honest, nobody can recall the last time a TFC side did that. Factor in that all of Dallas' goals can in the first half and Toronto has not allowed a goal in five halves of football – 248 minutes of regulation play to be exact.
The benefit of staying tight at the back is that instead of needing two or three goals to win, just one will suffice. Take, for example, the match in Philadelphia. Toronto created plenty of chances, but required a moment of class from Giovinco to get their goal. Had they conceded a weak one at the other end, those three points would have been spoiled.
The aforementioned lack of diversity in goal-scoring would be a secondary concern. Giovinco and Altidore have combined to score eight of the eleven goals this season, with only Benoit Cheyrou, Jackson, and Robbie Findley adding singles. Should other teams figure out how to deal with the first two, Toronto would have limited options to find the winner. That needs to be addressed.
5-After seeing The Impact lose in the final what are the expectations in Toronto regarding the Canadian Championship and the Champions League?
Toronto has had a strange relationship with the Voyageurs Cup and the Champions League, largely because of that playoff noose hanging around their necks.
Without achieving that modest aim, they have had to double and triple down on it, and in some ways it has become an all-consuming albatross, or white whale, just to get all the available metaphors imaginable involved.
They likely looked on at all the attention Montreal garnered with their run through jealous eyes, but until the playoff goal is met, everything else will be secondary; to their detriment.
The honour of the national championship is not lost on the fans, or the club for that matter, but the extra strain that it puts on the limitations of the MLS roster can be viewed as a risk. The rewards of making waves on a larger stage has been tasted, in fact, some of the club's most memorable moments, such as the knockout stage win over David Beckham's Galaxy, the dramatic pair of encounters against Santos Laguna, and Joao Plata's revelatory brace in Dallas, have come in CONCACAF, not to mention all the twists and turns of the Voyageurs Cup itself over the years.
Toronto will want to win it, but how many resources they are willing to expend is unknown. There are two factors should be considered when surmising how they will approach the matches. First, that the final stage of this year's edition is not until August, which means that rather than four additional games in short order, there are only two to consider, which leads one to believe that the club could go for it with a strong team without risking the league fixtures. Second, that the winner of this year's tournament qualifies not for this year's Champions League, but the next one, injecting some additional distance into the equation that may lead to overlooking its value.
They could go either way and there has been little explicit indication in which direction they are leaning.
6-Expected Lineup and predictions for the game? (It was before Toronto announced their not travelling list)
That is the million dollar question, isn't it?
Should there be no changes in player availability – Joe Bendik, Steven Caldwell, and Clement Simonin are 'out', while Mark Bloom is 'questionable' – and assuming the club goes for it in the first leg as recommended above, expect a full-strength eleven of Chris Konopka in goal; from right to left – Justin Morrow, Nick Hagglund, Damien Perquis,and Ashtone Morgan across the back; Jackson, Michael Bradley, Benoit Cheyrou, and Jonathan Osorio through the middle; with Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore up top. They have looked solid in the last few weeks, so to tinker seems unnecessary, and it is not like the schedule to this point has been overly strenuous. That lineup has one change from the last two matches, bringing in Osorio for Findley.
The most obvious alterations would be to give some playing time to the bench players. Collen Warner would come in for Cheyrou, Luke Moore for Altidore, a fit Bloom for Morrow at right-back perhaps, or maybe even Warren Creavalle there, though he has looked better in midfield than on the back-line. Dan Lovitz needs some playing time, he could man the left with Osorio swapping to the right, and Erik Zavaleta has yet to really feature, but is an option at centre-back.
The only thing that can be said for certain is that the Canadians in the first-team – Morgan and Osorio - will undoubtedly feature, but if any of the TFC II players are brought in, it could be asummed that the club is not that bothered about the Voyageurs Cup and the Champions League for the time being.
Prediction – Montreal struggles to shake off the hangover of disappointment and Toronto comes in with full-force to sweep to a 0-3 victory. That may well be more aspirational than fact-based.