Tomorrow evening, Nashville SC will host a Canadian side for the second time this season. It’s a squad that the Boys in Gold upset in last year’s playoffs… but Toronto FC looks very different despite plenty of personnel consistency. I caught up with Connor Somerville of MLS Multiplex for the latest on the Reds.
Tim Sullivan: Obviously Alejandro Pozuelo has been the headliner of this team for a couple years now. But with Jozy Altidore away from the team and Yeferson Soteldo out injured, who are some of the other names that Nashville SC fans should keep an eye on in the attack?
Connor Somerville: Well, the obvious one would be Canadian American striker Ayo Akinola. He’s struggled a little bit this season, but he bagged one on Saturday against Orlando and has been pretty healthy of late. He had a real breakout season last year and can do a lot of damage with his physicality and athleticism.
Another guy is Jonathon Osorio. The Canadian midfielder also scored on the weekend and is pretty creative with the ball at his feet. He’s someone who can be a bit of a dual-threat as both a scorer and as a setup guy. The final one I’ll go with is Richie Laryea. Another Canadian, Laryea loves to get involved in the attack from full-back and is very dynamic on the ball. He’s someone who’s going to challenge the Nashville backline and cause a lot of problems.
TS: How would you describe the Reds’ style of play? Have they remained possession-oriented like under Greg Vanney? Are they going full Red Bull in Chris Armas’ first year? Or is the answer (as is most likely) somewhere in the middle? What are some of the ways the style has changed in the first handful of games this season?
CS: They are definitely playing more of a pressing style, to their benefit or detriment is open to interpretation though. TFC and Armas have really embraced the press, but they really like to pick their moments. So I wouldn’t say it’s an all-out press, but more of a conservative press. The style hasn’t really changed much since Armas’ first game, which is one of the issues that fans have had with him in his short stint with TFC.
TS: The defense has struggled at this early stage. What has been behind the struggle there? TFC has given up 15 goals on around 11 xG against, is it largely a matter of luck?
CS: It’s a lot of pretty stupid mistakes, miscommunication, and a touch of bad luck. The TFC backline has really struggled to communicate on fast breaks and Omar Gonzalez has been exposed quite a bit for his lack of pace. Some of the issues were addressed with the return of Mavinga from injury, but with Bono in net, the escape mechanism that is passing it back to the keeper doesn’t really exist for the TFC defenders. A lot of miscommunication is to blame, and this isn’t even getting into the team’s woeful set-piece defending.
TS: On a similar note, Alex Bono has been just OK this year, but Quentin Westberg’s attempt to reclaim his job didn’t go particularly well Saturday. What’s the expectation at the keeper position going forward? Who is the fans’ choice?
CS: If you couldn’t tell by my last answer, I personally side with Quentin Westberg. I think his ability on the ball and experience is really beneficial to the backline. Last Saturday was Westberg’s first competitive start since November of last year, so some of the errors he made can be written off as rust, but it was worrisome and he wasn’t good enough to start the game. The expectation going forward, however, is probably that we continue to see Bono start. He seems to be Armas’ go to, especially considering Saturday was Westberg’s first game and the errors he made, despite most people preferring Westberg as TFC’s regular starter.
TS: Overall, is there a sense that TFC is just going through some early-season growing pains, or that there is going to be a tough job to recover some respectability in the first year under Armas?
CS: Fans appear to be growing increasingly frustrated with Armas and TFC’s play this season. I think at this point people are starting to see that this is who Armas is as a manager and that he doesn’t really work with this group of players or team. The idea that this was growing pains or just a poor start to the season was kind of dispelled on Saturday, in my opinion, considering TFC was pretty close to fully healthy and still unable to pick up any sort of result.
TS: Do you have any predictions for how the game plays out? (including a final score if you’re comfortable giving one)
CS: I’m always comfortable making myself look stupid and giving predictions, so here we go. I think this will be a heavily controlled match by TFC, but that they’ll lose. I have very little faith in the backline and tactics and I think Nashville’s backline is going to be able to handle TFC’s attack, even with Pozuelo (if he even plays because he is coming off an injury and TFC may not risk aggravating it by playing him in two matches so close together). So, for a score prediction, I’ll go 2-1 Nashville. And, now that I’ve said that, get ready for a TFC barn burner or the worst TFC have looked all season. Either way, it should be a pretty good game.
Many many thanks to Connor for his insight into Toronto FC. Make sure to follow him for the latest on the Reds.