Major League Soccer fans get a preview of the new season tonight as Canadian champion Toronto F.C. hosts MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final.
The teams were inseparable in their two MLS meetings last year – tying 0-0 at BMO Field in April and 2-2 at Home Depot Center in June. Another close-run encounter can be expected this evening as Aron Winter’s side shows signs that it could finally be ready for a tilt at the MLS play-offs.
Winter alternated between two formations during last week’s Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic in Kissimmee, Fla. The former Dutch international midfielder mainly utilized the 4-3-3 system traditionally preferred by his countrymen. He also experimented with designated player Torsten Frings dropping between the center-backs in a 3-4-3 line-up.
The former, more attacking formation should be expected tonight, particularly with The Reds being cheered on by over 40,000 fans at Rogers Centre. Full-backs Ashtone Morgan and Richard Eckersley’s hesitation to push forward can lead to Toronto conceding too much ground in the midfield in a 3-4-3. That presents David Beckham with space to exploit Frings’ lack of mobility with early through balls to Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
Goalkeeper Stefan Frei is being pushed for his starting role by Serbian back-up Milos Kocic. Frei should get the nod. His excellent distribution from throws to the speedy wingers Joao Plata and Reggie Lambe provides Toronto with an effective counter-attacking option when the Swiss goalkeeper grasps Beckham’s set pieces and cross balls.
Winter has a big decision to make regarding who will lead his midfield trio – former F.C. Dallas man Eric Avila or Los Angeles-born rookie Luis Silva. The U.C. Santa Barbara alum showed excellent balance and control when running with the ball during Toronto’s march to the Walt Disney final. Silva has an effortless ability to breeze past defenders at speed and links well with front man Danny Koevermans around the edge of the penalty box.
Much will hinge on whether Winter feels the former Chivas USA U-19 player has the confidence to make his professional debut in a game of such magnitude.