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TFC 2012

Thrilla in Vanilla

Biggest Game in the Universe

I am officially tired of the ‘biggest game in history’ label being applied to the Champion’s League match tonight. It was the same moniker given to the game in Dallas last fall, when TFC qualified for this round. I suppose we can expect it to keep getting applied to every match in this competition moving forward. That’s supposing Toronto FC do move forward in the CCL.

I think that we can all agree that tonight’s match against the LA Galaxy represents everything that is exciting about sports. A huge sellout crowd will be rooting for the home team. Our guys in Red will be playing the role of underdog. It’s against the league’s Titan. The LA Galaxy finished first overall and won the MLS Cup in 2011. These are the baddies with the flashiest and highest priced talent in the league. What’s not to love in that drama?

For most of TFC’s young roster, this will likely be the biggest crowd they’ve seen from the pitch. The pressure must be enormous for these guys. And here’s hoping that it’s thrilling rather than chilling them.

Beating the Galaxy is not outside the realm of possibilities tonight. But it will take many stars aligning for that magic to occur. Don’t get me wrong, I give them a fair chance of winning. That is, only if their nerves don’t overwhelm them.

 

Joao Plata, for one, is a big game player. That’s at least what he proved last season. There were stretches in the league play when he disappeared. That’s not a joke about his 5’2″ height either. Other times, Plata was simply manhandled off his game. There’s no arguing, however, that he has a hunger for scoring. And that seems to flare up in the big games.

The 3-0 rout of FC Dallas to qualify for tonight is the obvious example. But it’s not the only one.┬áPlata is just one of those guys you can count on to use the pressure rather than fall to it.

Keeping Plata a threatening force in attack, along with Ryan Johnson will be vital. Only then, will Danny Koevermans find more room to operate in the middle. That can only be a good thing if TFC want to test LA’s central defenders and keeper tonight.

Everyone talks about defense as TFC’s achilles heel. And certainly tonight will be a first real look at what the 2012 Reds can present as central defenders. The lynchpin for me will be how well the team as a whole defends. With attack minded players and formations, the drudgery of holding it together sometimes lapses. I thought this was the key to success in beating Dallas in the qualifying match last fall. That and some well finished scoring opportunities.

LA’s team might be the best the MLS has seen in its short history. And props must be given to Bruce Arena, the organization and talent involved. Part of the magic at the Roger’s Centre tonight will simply be watching them play together. Beckham and Keene, Donovan and Buddle, Juninho and the rest. On plan, this is a team that holds fast and counter attacks aggressively. Stymied or protecting a lead they can be dull and uneventful. Other times, the Galaxy can also be stunning and swift.

Over TFC’s history, the Reds have fared reasonably well against the Galaxy. It’s especially true if one considers the disparity in their rankings, certainly for the past three seasons. So I think Toronto FC have some right to be confident.

The reverse angle on this match is that LA has put its own pressure on the result of this contest. I would say they have more at stake.

We’re accustomed to struggling with TFC. Often failing.

But LA is giddy with success. The team and fans are now proudly pointing at the Club World Cup in December. (That’s the eventual destination of the CCL victor). We could be thrilled with just pushing out the Galaxy now.

A CCL title down the line would be grand. But I’m in it for the match tonight. All it takes is one game. A strong, home-supported victory for the Reds could launch them into 2012 with some genuine ferocity.

And in the interest of keeping our minds on what’s possible, here’s a great highlight reel of TFC’s goals from 2011.

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