Toronto FC is in the best run of form of their existence, sitting atop the eastern conference with a real shot at the Supporters Shield. The Montreal Impact are looking today to knock them down a peg and claim their first-ever win at BMO Field.
I caught up with Mitchell Tierney at Waking the Red with a few questions before this afternoon's game in the Two Solitudes Derby.
You can see our answers to their questions here.
BB: Fans must be excited about TFC's hot state right now. What would you say is TFC's biggest weakness in what appears to be their best-ever run of form?
MT: Toronto's biggest weakness continues to be teams who can stay compact and organised defensively and sit behind the ball. Their lone dropped points of a recent three-game road trip came against the Houston Dynamo, who only had 10 men for half of the match. Why? Because the Dynamo were forced to sit back and absorb Toronto's pressure, putting all of their men behind the ball. As many creative players as Toronto FC has, they are more built for counterattacking when other teams are putting the pressure on them.
The struggle to break down an opponent who is compact defensively boiled over in the team's last loss, when a nine-man San Jose Earthquakes side scored late to beat them. That could have happened in Houston again, but keeper Alex Bono made some big saves. So if Montreal can sit back and defend for ninety minutes, they could well get a result, albeit an ugly one.
The one counterpoint to this, however, is that Jozy Altidore did not start either of those two aforementioned matches, or really many of the matches all year where Toronto FC has struggled to score. Altidore can be the x-factor for Toronto's attack, and whether a back line is stretched or compact he is a constant threat.
BB: Do you think Toronto players might underestimate this match, given our recent slump and the fact that, so far this year, we've been swept in the series?
MT: Not a chance, this is a huge match for Toronto that they have had circled on their schedule for some time. Now that they are top of the Eastern Conference, they will want to announce it to the city by beating their rival team. After last year's playoffs, don't expect them to underestimate the Impact anytime soon.
All of Toronto's talk this week has been about not letting their foot off of the pedal. They now have the top spot in the Eastern Conference, but they want to retain it until October. Now they also have a very good shot at the Supporter's Shield, especially considering the fact that six of their last eight games will be played at home.
BB: Designated Players aside, who is the top threat the Impact should watch for this weekend?
MT: Will Johnson has just returned from injury, and will be looking to cement his place back in the midfield with a good performance in front of the home fans. Johnson never needs any motivation, but perhaps a recent snub from the Canadian Men's national team will provide that. Whatever the case, expect Johnson to be a thorn in the Montreal Impact's side all game long.
Toronto has really missed Johnson during the time he was out with a broken leg, suffered scoring the Voyageurs Cup winning goal. Johnson is one of the only Toronto midfielders who is actually willing to shoot the ball in the attacking third. It doesn't go in all that much, but at least he isn't goal shy like some of Toronto's other midfielders.
BB: Bonus question, what do you think is holding Toronto media back from getting in on the Two Solitudes Derby name bandwagon? Is it more distaste or lack of exposure?
MT: Honestly, I like the name Two Solitudes better than 401 Derby, but that's the name which has truly stuck in the Toronto FC community. It isn't great, but it is going to be really hard to change now. I think Toronto FC fans have generally embraced that name, and the media knows it well now. It's going to be hard to get rid of it, I don't really see that happening.
TFC Expected Starting XI