Originally posted on Total MLS  |  Last updated 3/7/12

Is there a better way to start the season? Toronto FC begins their highly anticipated 2012 campaign with an opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the league. In what is arguably the biggest game in franchise history, the Reds will play host to the LA Galaxy on Wednesday in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal showdown.

 

The match marks the first time Toronto plays a home game outside of BMO Field. The game is set to be played at the Rogers Center, home of the Toronto Blue Jays. The venue is nearly twice the size of BMO Field, seating a capacity crowd of 45,000 for a soccer match. The team has sold over 43,000 tickets, which will almost double the clubs previous attendance record of 22,453, set April 13, 2011 vs. the LA Galaxy.

The support will be there, but will the results?

With over 43,000 fans, it is going to be a brand new atmosphere for some of the players. This makes it really important for Winter to calm his troops and have them composed and ready to go.

This is where the veteran presence of Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans will come in handy. These are guys who are used to playing in front of large crowds in Europe. They will be given the responsibility of leading the troops out onto the pitch and controlling the tempo early on.

In an atmosphere like this, all too often you see a team come out over excited and over aggressive, before burning out after twenty minutes. It is a ninety minute game and priority one for Toronto has to be defense and not conceding that all important away goal.

It is clear Winter has placed a priority on defense in anticipation of the team’s quarterfinal showdown. Recent acquisitions of Ecuadorian defender Geovanny Caciedo and Chilean defender Miguel Aceval, coupled with the signing of Richard Eckersley have helped shore up a defense that allowed a league high 59 goals in 2011.

Caciedo and Eckersly will be expected to lead the back four into this first leg, as Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams are still recovering from offseason injuries. Eckersly and Caciedo will likely start alongside Ty Harden and Ashtone Morgan, somewhat of a step up from 2011. Then again, any combination that excludes Andy Iro would be considered a step up.

All the pressure will be placed on the Toronto FC back four in dealing with the potent Galaxy attack. Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane have returned from their European loans and will be joining David Beckham, Edson Buddle, Chad Barrett and Brazilian midfielder Juninho in what is a very intimidating front seven for LA. Not to mention the also talented Mike Magee and Michael Stephens who are also likely to feature in the team’s starting XI.

This is also where Torsten Frings comes into play. Frings is an all-around spectacular player for Toronto, who even on the back end of his career remains the centerpiece of the Toronto midfield. His experience will bode well in dealing with a star studded Galaxy line up. Frings has an eye for goal while also remaining a steady contributor on the back end as a stabilizing force in the midfield.

Frings anchors a midfield that is currently up in the air. While Toronto will likely boast a 4-3-3 formation, the two midfielders who will join Frings in the starting XI is very much up for debate.

Many will argue Luis Silva’s strong showing in the preseason has earned him a spot in the starting lineup. There is also a case to be made for Terry Dunfield who has plenty of experience in big games in his career with the Canadian national team.

Julian De Guzman is not available for Winter as he picked up a suspension in the final group match vs. Dallas, while Eric Avila remains unavailable for the team’s Champions League campaign. Matt Stinson and Oscar Cordon have featured regularly for Toronto throughout the preseason, but their youth will likely keep them out of the starting XI.

This leaves Aron Winter with his choice of two from Luis Silva, Terry Dunfield, Reggie Lambe and hybrid D/M Miguel Aceval to join Frings in the midfield. Silva appears ready to go, but is this just too big of a stage for him to make his Toronto FC debut?

Up front, Winter has very few decisions to make. Danny Koevermans will feature as the center forward in the 4-3-3, while Ryan Johnson and Joao Plata will likely play the wings. Johnson has three goals in as many games so far this preseason, giving fans reason to believe goals may not be as hard to come by in 2012.

Joao Plata will feature as the focal point of the Toronto attack and much will be expected of him in his second season with the club. It was his brace in the final group stage match vs. Dallas sent them through to the quarterfinals.

If the trio of Plata, Johnson and Koevermans can find their form ahead of Wednesday’s match, the Galaxy back four will have their hands full, especially considering the absence of center back Omar Gonzalez.

The Reds will certainly be forced to maintain offensive pressure because being held scoreless at home will be tough to overcome in the second leg. While they must maintain pressure on LA’s back four, it is just as important for them to keep shape and stay composed at the back. Considering Toronto’s recent struggle to score on the road, they must do what they can to help our Frei and keep a clean sheet heading into the second leg.

For those of you going to the game, come early and join the march to the Rogers Center. Fans will gather at Toronto’s famous Real Sports Bar for drinks and European Champions League soccer during the afternoon. Reds nation will then congregate in Maple Leaf square outside the bar around 6:00 before heading out on a march to the Rogers Center.

The game marks the only time Toronto will host the MLS Cup and league champion LA Galaxy this season.

Toronto will travel to Los Angeles for the March 14 return leg.

(image courtesy of torontofc.ca)

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