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Behind Enemy Lines: Three Questions with Waking the Red

We talked with Duncan Fletcher from Waking the Red about the Toronto FC squad Sporting KC will be facing on Friday.

"I am on the ground, can you chill for a bit?"
"I am on the ground, can you chill for a bit?"
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

1) How different is the team without the international players? Are we going to see similar tactics to what we saw against NYRB for the rest of the time when the internationals are gone?

Really there's only one big difference. Jermain Defoe is merely on standby so doesn't even have to attend camp so he's still around and going by the limited evidence of one game seems to be productively trying to prove a point rather than sulking, which is good news. Julio Cesar? Well, it was kind of fun to say 'hey that's Brazil's starting goalie in goal for us', and it'll be fun to see Toronto's name attached to a Brazil player throughout the World Cup, but that sort of casual fan marketing and worldwide brand awareness work is really what he's here for, he won't be missed too much on the pitch. Joe Bendik's done ok in the games he's played and Cesar never really stood out as being worth the extra 200k of cap space suddenly thrown at the goalie position when he became available. It's unlikely he'll be back after the World Cup, so that cap space saved can be better spent on the rest of the team. The one big difference though really is a big one and of course that's Michael Bradley. The first few games of the season before he picked up a minor injury, he was immense, an interception and tackling machine, with the game sense to spot quick counter attack opportunities and the skill to pull off the necessary passes. He hasn't been as effective since coming back, but this goal against Vancouver showed what he's capable of. The formation won't really change without Bradley, but Kyle Bekker is a poor imitation, without the drive and quick thinking to create and exploit turnovers.

As for tactics, what was seen against new York is very similar to what we've seen all year really, and it's all about turnovers. Jermain Defoe is the ideal man to have making runs to get on the end of passes when things are a bit disorganised and that's by far the main way TFC are threatening. If the opposition are set and prepared, then there doesn't seem to be the imagination to pry a team open through the middle, so instead it's try and attack from wide, generally the wingers cutting in with full backs overlapping. There's very little subtlety or patience to the attack, and that's led to TFC repeatedly getting killed in possession stats, and so far only 9 goals in 8 league games, not really the returns you might hope for give the off season outlay, though injuries and a weirdly tough schedule are valid contributors to that. I wouldn't expect to see anything different on Friday.

2) Toronto has only played eight games so far this season, which leads to a lower point total. Based on the schedule ahead, where do you see Toronto ending up when they catch up to the rest of the league in games played?

On a points per game basis, TFC have 1.5, which is good for 6th in the league so merely keep that up and we'll be alright. As I mentioned earlier, it's been a very tough start so far, TFC have already played 3 of their 4 Western away games for the year, and have almost always been up against an in form team. Seattle and RSL away are always tough, They got Dallas away when they were 4-1-1 and Columbus away when they were 3-0-0. New England and Colorado both came to Toronto amid their hot streaks as well. Presumably that sort of thing will even itself out over the season, so though things haven't looked all that impressive, to have 12 points already isn't a bad result. Of course those games in hand have got to be played, so things are going to get very busy from July onwards, especially if they beat Montreal and qualify for the CCL, which will bring further challenges. There'll be tough moments for sure, but I think TFC have enough starpower to end up roughly 3rd or 4th in the playoffs, then anything can happen.

3) Now that he has been given some toys to play with, how do you rate Nelsen's job as manager, or is it still to early to tell?

Still too early to tell, especially with injuries causing a bit of havoc, but my faith is definitely diminishing. A lot of people's faith disappeared last season but I was willing to give him a pass, he'd coached a poor squad into a competitiveish team that really cut down the goals against which was about as much as I could have expected really. The new toys of course have dramatically changed expectations and so far it looks like Nelsen doesn't really know what to do with them, it's all looked very similar to 2013 TFC, especially when we have the ball. A bit too slow, a bit too unimaginative, a bit too predictable and with very little variation. Frankly very uninspiring and a bit dull. The new toys help to make that work of course, and TFC's counter attack is very good, but it's almost as if that's all there is. I can't imagine it's exactly what Tim Leiweke had in mind when bringing in the 'bloody big deal', especially as the renewed enthusiasm of fans seems to drifting away again, their imagination uncaptured. At the press conference announcing Defoe and Bradley, Leiweke asked 'Why can't we be great?' The early answer to that would be, because of Ryan Nelsen. So far in public management has been nothing but supportive of Nelsen, but if results don't come as expected, the boring and pessimistic style of play isn't really going to hep him keep his job. To sum up, I'm becoming less and less impressed, but definitely too early to tell.

You can check out the Toronto FC coverage over at Waking the Red.