Colorado and Toronto meet only a single time every season with the new unbalanced schedule, so they will be making their first foray into Dick's Sporting Goods Park since mid-2011 this weekend. (That game ended in an incredibly boring 0-0 draw. You may remember it as one of the string of ties we had in the doldrums of late spring and early summer, setting that awful record of most ties in a row by an MLS team. Ick.)
You can check out my answers to their Rapids-centric questions over at their site, my questions to them are below. Read on!
BW: Toronto only have a single win, but they've struck me as a far better team this season than in past seasons. What changes has Ryan Nelsen made since coming in that have stabilized Toronto FC, and more importantly, is the percieved improvement that I'm seeing actually happening or am I seeing things?
WtR: I'd say yes and no to the actually happening question, though Nelsen has definitely had a positive influence (almost wrote impact there, shudder). Right now, Toronto's squad is desperately poor, but they're being coached to the level of a competitively poor team, which is an upgrade on the shambles that was last season with a better team on paper. The next step is to improve the squad and then we'll see if Nelsen's good enough to coach a more expansive attacking game successfully.
Through a more defensive focus, high pressing and clogging up the middle, TFC have become tough to break down. There's not enough quality in midfield to create good chances, but Robert Earnshaw had a great start to the season, masking those deficiencies a bit with his opportunism so for the first few games, they didn't look like all that bad of a team. Take away the injury time goals and we could have a few more points, and we would have deserved them, and that was despite a tough schedule so far.
But, Earnshaw has cooled off a bit, and injuries have hit us (and TFC do not have depth right now) and so right now we're looking pretty rugged with a few poor games recently, capped off with a 6-0 defeat to Montreal on Wednesday night. They'd let in result altering goals in injury time in 3 straight games, then followed it with that thrashing so mentally, the team has to be a bit beat up right now that is very much there for the taking.
BW: How has the obviously jaded TFC fanbase reacted in general to all of the new front office moves from Nelsen onward?
WtR: Most people see Kevin Payne's arrival as a good thing, it's the first time we've had an experienced football man in the top job and Tim Leiweke's arrival at MLSE should help as well. Replacing Paul Mariner with Ryan Nelsen also has general support, so right now, those that haven't completely given up are, however grudgingly, ready to buy into yet another fresh start and give them the time they need. The thousands that travelled to Montreal for the league game earlier in the season is a good indication of a fanbase that's desperately trying to convince themselves that things might be better this time.
It's going to be another long season, we've all more or less accepted that and the supporters seem willing to give Nelsen enough time. Importantly, for the first time now we seem to have a front office that will show the same patience. However sick of this team we might get at times, supporters can at least cling to the hope that there's a proper long term plan now that will actually have a chance to come to fruition.
BW: There has clearly been some big roster turnover since last we met, are there any new names that I should be keeping my eye on in this match that I may not have heard of before?
WtR: Well hopefully there'll be TFC's new young DP, Argentinian Matias Laba. He's officially signed up and travelled with the team to watch the game in Montreal, but doesn't have his international transfer certificate as of the time of writing. If that arrives before Saturday, expect to see him play a part. He's not going to be the type of DP that takes the league by storm though, he's a defensive midfielder, more adventurously described as a box to box midfielder, but either way, he's not going to be scoring goals or anything like that. Osvaldo Alsonso is the standard most people are hoping he can achieve and he could eventually be one good piece of an overall improved team.
Of the other new guys, Robert Earnshaw's looked good and the defence will have to keep an eye on him, and Joe bendik, formerly of Portland's bench has done well in goal. Gale Agbossoumonde has had a few good games at centre back and seems to be keeping Danny Califf out of the starting lineup, but you've probably heard of those guys. A lot of the other newcomers fall into one of 3 categories.
1) Unremarkable and would ideally be reserve players or subs at the best, the type of player any MLS squad needs to fill out their roster - Ryan Richter, and Justin Braun fill that description nicely.
2) Young projects - draft picks Kyle Bekker and Emery Welshman haven't really impressed so far and are unlikely to see the pitch in Colorado.
3) Outright busts - Hogan Ephraim, on loan from QPR and John Bostock, formerly of Spurs have both been very underwhelming so far and I can't see either of their loans being extended unless they improve.
To properly answer the question, a newcomer you may not have heard of is Jonathan Osorio. He's a local kid who went to Uruguay for a couple of years and is now back and has had some strong performances in midfield and scored a couple of goals coming off the bench.
BW: Lineup and score prediction of your own?
WtR: Injuries are taking their toll, so this is assuming that none of the walking wounded are declared fit, and I'll guess that Laba's ITC won't be ready in time. Anyway, from right to left, and with a diamond midfield, I'll guess at the following.
Prediction: Rapids weather an early push, then get a fairly early goal and cruise home adding a 2nd late in the game for a 2-0 home win.
Thanks again to Duncan at Waking The Red, make sure to head over there for everything you've ever wanted to know and more about Toronto FC.