Creavalle vs. Columbus

Three Storylines: Battle For The East Hard To Predict

Every Wednesday we’ll tackle three storylines currently circulating in TFCville. We’ll look at everything from tactics, to key players to this week’s opponent. The Reds look to make their good start a great one in Columbus this weekend.

The seven game road trip continues this week. On Saturday the tour stops in Columbus, where the first battle for the Trillium Cup takes place.

Was the second half demolition in Vancouver a product of a tactical masterclass? We debate that question and more in this week’s three storylines.

Tactics Talk

Much has been made of Greg Vanney’s coaching acumen following TFC’s 3-1 triumph in Vancouver. He got it right after acknowledging a mistake was the general sentiment. 

The high line employed by the Reds in the opening stages of the first half left them exposed to Vancouver’s pace up front, but outside of that adjustment was there a major tactical shift?

“We were doing a better job of covering our backside,” said Vanney when asked what made the biggest difference in the second half. “We were getting Warren [Creavalle] into good positions and our centre-backs were dropping a little bit quicker.”

That was the game plan heading into the match. The Whitecaps pressed like mad in the first half. So much so that it was clear their fitness in the final period was lacking. That helped TFC control the game. Getting acclimated to the turf at BC Place also helped players like Benoit Cheyrou, Damien Perquis and Steven Caldwell settle in.

Yes, Vanney made the needed tweaks at halftime, but there wasn’t a major shift in TFC’s tactics. They will always be fluid, as the head coach continues to seek evolution in team dynamics over atrophy.

Eastern Battle

Predicting what will happen in the Eastern Conference this season is a dangerous game. Gone are Houston, Sporting Kansas City and Thierry Henry. MLS Cup finalists New England got smashed by Seattle in their opener (without Nguyen, Davies and Jones to be fair). In are expansion franchises Orlando City SC and New York City FC.

On paper Toronto FC matches up well with any team in their conference. Orlando is the most unpredictable side. The Red Bulls are likely to take a step back. D.C. United and the Revolution will find themselves near the top of the conference for much of the year. For my money, however, the class of the east might just be the Crew.

Gregg Berhalter has done a terrific job since arriving in Columbus last season. Their backline, led by Michael Parkhurst, is near the top of the league. Federico Higuain is the prototypical MLS number 10. They have great options on the left in Justin Meram and Kristinn Steindórsson. If Kei Kamara keeps his head he should be good for 15 goals this season.

Columbus represents a solid early test for the Reds. Last season an undermanned TFC defeated the Crew in their first meeting thanks to goals from Michael Bradley and Issey-Nakajima Farran. Toronto went on to sweep the season series.

Revenge will be on the docket for Berhalter & Co.

The Biggest Rival

With the eve of another installment of the Trillium Cup upon us it’s worth asking a straightforward question: which MLS club is TFC’s biggest rival?

The first team that comes to mind is obviously Montreal. The 401 derby has produced some memorable moments throughout the years.

Vancouver is up there. There were a few verbal shots from the left coast thrown this way last week and Jozy Altidore’s trolling masterclass produced quite the photo.

Canadian bragging rights aside there is, of course, Columbus. Last year’s sweep culminated in Doneil Henry’s dramatic last gasp header at BMO Field.

Perhaps TFC’s biggest rival hasn’t been found yet. Playoff battles are good at breeding hate. Hopefully the chance to loathe an entire city and its denizens comes this year.