MLS Match of the Week
Toronto vs. RSL: Irresistible Force & Immovable Object
Undefeated Toronto FC is the league’s new must-watch team, and a trip out west to face perennial contender Real Salt Lake will be the club’s toughest test yet. Here's ASN's first MLS Match of the Week.
March 28, 2014
THE SET-UPThe “Bloody Big Deal”—Toronto FC's new moniker/slogan/war cry after the recent acquisitions of Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, Gilberto, and Julio Cesar—kicked off the season with wins at Seattle and at home against lowly D.C. United, with everything going according to plan. Bradley is dominant in midfield, Defoe is scoring at will, Cesar has allowed only one goal, and the club has its first-ever 2-0 start. New money meets the old guard in this one, as RSL boasts an established and talented lineup in the midst of a brutal start to the year. A scheduling quirk meant two matchups against the L.A. Galaxy (a win and draw) in the first three games, along with a 3-3 draw at San Jose. And it won’t get easier from here, as an MLS Cup Final rematch looms next week in Kansas City. TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen, apparently unimpressed by that schedule, called his team’s calendar “probably the toughest start of any team in the whole of the league” during a press conference this week. He added: “The way we started is obviously very pleasing, but we’ve got another two away games that are extremely difficult. The one thing I like about these guys is they like it when they’re kind of the underdogs.” Tough schedule or not—the Reds face 2-0 Columbus next—the club won’t be able to call itself an underdog for long if it maintains its current level of play. An injury-depleted RSL strike force takes some of the shine off this meeting, but there’s still plenty of reason to tune in when the two face off Saturday at 9:30 p.m. Eastern at Rio Tinto Stadium. You can watch on TSN2, MLS LIVE (with subscription), or via websites of questionable legality.
JURGEN IN THE HOUSEThis one also comes with the Jurgen Klinsmann Seal of Approval, as the U.S. coach will reportedly be in attendance to watch a clash between four players he called up for the April 2 friendly against Mexico: TFC’s Bradley, and RSL’s holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman, goalkeeper Nick Rimando, and attacking midfielder Luis Gil. ASN No. 1 has been outstanding thus far, tied for second in the league with eight key passes despite playing one fewer match than most of his competition. His instinctive, perfectly placed through-ball led to the lone goal in a 1-0 win against D.C. last week, and he’s showing the leadership and relentlessness that has become his trademark. Although some U.S. supporters were unhappy to see Bradley leave Europe, the opportunity to watch him at his best in MLS brings undeniable entertainment value. And while it’s possible that facing less-prestigious competition could stunt his development, there are no signs of that so far. Plus, the chance to play every minute and get more involved in the attack are two big benefits. Bradley only added to his legend via a collision with D.C. United’s Davy Arnaud last week, which left him with a bloody dome that required a baker’s dozen of staples and resulted in a look that’s straight off the poster of a “Saw” movie.
There’s not much for Klinsmann to say to Bradley besides, “Keep your head sewn together and carry on,” so it’s more likely he’s there to evaluate the guys on the other side: Beckerman, Rimando, and Gil. Beckerman has played himself into contention for a spot on the World Cup roster, and this match presents a great test of his abilities. He’ll have to duel with Bradley in midfield, limit Defoe, and initialize the RSL attack—with the good news being that TFC may be without Bradley’s midfield partner, Jonathan Osorio, due to injury. The steady Rimando isn’t going to be taking down Tim Howard or Brad Guzan with the national team, so the biggest opportunity to impress Klinsmann may belong to the 20-year-old Gil, who picked up his first full national team cap during a 2-0 win against South Korea on Feb. 1. He has a very bright future with the national team, but a question persists: When does Gil become a U.S. national team regular?
Someone asked Bradley, 'How many staples?' 'Dunno,' he shrugged. pic.twitter.com/RHzpOwC29R— cathalkelly (@cathalkelly) March 22, 2014