The Columbus Crew continued their best start to a season in franchise history with a stoppage time beauty from Justin Meram in Seattle. Meanwhile, Toronto F.C. suffered their first loss of the season, as the offseason's biggest spenders were given a reality check by MLS Cup finalists Real Salt Lake, 3-0. The two teams now meet up in Columbus for the first leg of the Trillium Cup.
Questions for Waking the Red
MR: Obvious one, but where does this team turn with Jermain Defoe ruled out, as he has scored all three of Toronto's goals this season?
WtR: It's a good question and we might finally figure out just how good the 3rd of TFC's 3 DP signings might be. Defoe and Michael Bradley have enormous oversized pay cheques but there's also a certainty you're buying, you know what you'll get. Gilberto on the other hand is a gamble, more of a project. His stats in the Brazilian league were ok, though hardly world beating and many of those that pay attention to the South American scene seem to be a bit non-plussed by the signing. There's plenty of precedent for young South Americans to struggle in MLS so I'm in no way convinced this is going to work out, Once the Bradley opportunity came along and we found ourselves with 4 DP's, I'd have much rather kept Matias Laba, but that wasn't going to happen given the hype attached to Gilberto, so here we are, let's hope it works. He's looked ok so far, without convincing, but a lot of people thought he wouldn't really fit in alongside Defoe, now here's his chance to step up and be the main man that everyone's looking for rather than the secondary piece.
Ryan Nelsen's generally gone with a 4-4-2, so we'll probably see Dwayne De Rosario up top with him, and again he hasn't looked great so far this season, so it might be best to hope for goals from elsewhere, maybe Michael Bradley, or maybe Doneil Henry from a corner, he's come very close twice already.
MR: MLS fans know who Michael Bradley is, but it appeared to me that Jonathan Osorio is almost as important to the Reds' central midfield. What did he do in the first two games that may have gone unnoticed due to Bradley's presence?
WtR: Osorio's been a very pleasant surprise over the last two seasons. Last year he did very well in a more offensive role, chipping in with a few goals as well as looking creative and most importantly smart, looking like a very good advert for spending time developing in Uruguay. This year he's taken on more of a defensive role and looked good doing it. It was feared after Laba was traded that Bradley would have to be stuck in the DM role, if only due to a lack of alternatives, but instead he and Osorio have worked well, both of them almost as box to box midfielders. They've alternated between defensive and attacking responsibilities so far, and this has allowed Bradley to have more of an effect, getting forward and making things happen.
Osorio missed the game against RSL and will probably be out again this week, which will probably mean Jeremy Hall alongside Bradley. That didn't work well against RSL and hopefully he doesn't come up against Federico Higuain too much.
MR: After an offseason with big name additions and a 2-0 start to the season, what were the thoughts after last week's 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake and how do you think the team will respond with another road test this week?
WtR: It was very much a back to reality, though for fans that have been paying attention, not an entirely unexpected one. The British bookies had moved TFC to MLS Cup favourites, Soccer By Ives had TFC at the top of their power rankings, but really that was ridiculous, as the depth of squad needed for a season long campaign just isn't there yet. Tims Leiweke and Bezbatchenko have undoubtedly done a good job but there was such a long way to go for TFC to be considered favourites for anything and Real Salt Lake are a great example of that. As well as the depth, the tactics were very predictable and predictably unsuccessful. So far we've given away possession very easily, and while that counter attack style was ideal against a blunt object like DC, it was suicide against a team like RSL, so the defeat was no surprise really. It's certainly not time to panic, after all there are still 6 points in the bank with away games against Seattle and RSL already out of the way, but it was a good reminder that everything isn't quite as rosy as it seemed.
How will they respond? Well hopefully they'll find strength in adversity as Jermain Defoe is out as is Captain and defensive rock Steven Caldwell and others like Osorio or Doneil Henry may be missing. Hopefully others will see this as an opportunity to show what they can do and step up and make a difference. At the very least there'll be less pressure. People have talked about TFC having a target on their back now, but expectations will be significantly lowered for this one, maybe back down to 2013 levels depending on just how many people are out. A result here would be by far the most impressive of TFC's season.
Questions for Massive Report
WtR: 3-0! Quite the start. What's the biggest difference that Gregg Berhalter has made to the team?
MR: Yes, it's been the best start in Crew history thus far. Berhalter has brought a new philosophy to the team. They are playing a style that most would have though impossible under Robert Warzycha, but Berhalter has played to the strengths of his players. He brought in key acquisitions that made sense to what he wanted to do and thus far has made it work.
He wants his team to possess the ball and do so in the opponent's half. There have been some cracks so far (the Sounders scored on a poor pass from Wil Trapp last week), but after one preseason and four weeks of the regular season, it has been quite the turnaround and a buy-in by everyone involved.
WtR: Chad Marshall out, Michael Parkhurst in. Are fans happy with that change and how has that affected the Crew defense?
MR: Fans were definitely sad to see Chad go when the move was announced. I think the signing of Parkhurst was a bit of a relief, but people were still questioning the moves for two reasons. First, most hadn't seen Parkhurst play much since he left the New England Revolution for Europe. What they had seen was with the U.S. national team and he was playing on the outside, which would not replace Marshall. Second, fans had no idea the system Berhalter was going to install and Parkhurst fits that mold better than Marshall.
It's a long season, so we'll see if Parkhurst continues to impress, but he has been very solid in the first three games and looked good for the U.S. in the Mexico friendly.
WtR: Seems like only one forward is the plan this year. Will Dominic Oduro and Jairo Arrieta share time, or is one of them the obvious first choice? Where exactly does Federico Higuain fit in behind that striker?
MR: Interesting you ask about that because Oduro was just discussing that this week. It seems to me that who plays up top will depend on the game. Arrieta was the starter in the first two games, but Oduro started against the Sounders because they wanted someone who could get in behind the defense on the wet turf. Dom is better in those situations and Jario can hold up the ball and is more of a pure finisher.
Oduro mentioned the coaches have discussed the possibility of playing two true forwards, but it would depend on the situation. If that does happen, it will be interesting to see where Federico Higuain plays.