Almost every possession for TFC will be Sebastian Giovinco or Jozy Altidore, who gets the shot? And that’s the question that Seattle defenders will have to be able to answer in order to keep a clean sheet. The USMNT striker might be playing the best soccer of his career in the playoffs, scoring in every match and looking every bit the striker he was projected to be. But make no mistake, the attack is high-flying and led by the Atomic Ant, Gio.
Good news is, only one player in the Toronto attack presents a threat to occupy Chad Marshall and Roman Torres in the air for long balls and clearances. Bad news is, Michael Bradley, Gio, and Altidore can all make runs that will require Torres and Marshall to play their best games of the year. Jermaine Jones was able to cause problems by going up for headers against Ozzie and Roldan, a losing battle for the boys in Green every time. Without that threat, it will be akin to defending Dallas, a team with speed, one good back-to-goal striker, and a lot of bodies crashing into the box. TFC spreads the ball fairly evenly between the three channels but the ball always ends up back in the middle before the shot, with two-thirds of the shots coming from the middle lane. Of that, 43% come from outside the box. Toronto has no qualms about shooting when space appears. Roldan and Alonso will be required to step up on any midfielder within 30 yards of goal to prevent a shot while still making sure they do not expose a hole that the center backs can’t cover.
Pedro Morales for Vancouver created problems every match against Seattle by shooting from 25 yards out with no one closing him out. Since he chewed up the defense, Seattle has solidified with Roldan and Ozzie playing a pivot behind the three attackers sitting in front of the backline and attacking only when they feel necessary. The attack will not be easy to defend but the pieces are there and on paper continuing this strategy will work.
Midfielders not named Michael Bradley are kind of just there. Not to minimize Armando Cooper and Jonathan Osorio in the middle too much - they’ll make runs and can create danger - but likely they’ll be more worried about squeezing to prevent counters than creating or assisting in the offense. Armando Cooper will look to get fouled every time he has the ball and with Gio’s set piece ability (TFC’s scored 18 set piece goals this year) it is a definite threat. The attacking wingers, Morrow and Beitashour, will provide good service but will likely be asked to keep Mears and Jones wide to create space for Gio to operate in as opposed to provide service.
Biggest goal threat: Jozy Altidore. He’s a beast right now and is making every run count. Giovinco is more talented and technically better, but Altidore has the nose for goal and the confidence right now. I think Seattle marks Gio out of the match but it means Altidore has the ball more and with more space.
Most underrated attacker: Armando Cooper. Yes, I essentially said he doesn’t matter above, but with his penchant for going down in attacking spaces it could change the game. Either A) he draws a foul and leads to either more fouls and/or players unwilling to make a challenge giving him space to create, or B) he gets nowhere with his antics. The latter is the better option.
Altidore/Giovinco vs. Torres/Marshall: The edge goes to Toronto. The Seattle guys will get help with the rest of the team but the two attackers are unpredictable and too good with the ball. It will take some acts of brilliance by Frei (normal for him) to keep a clean sheet.
Late runs: Seattle has had trouble marking these and with the attention on Giovinco, it’ll create more problems with these. Advantage Toronto.
Set pieces: Seattle should be better at defending them than Montreal, but that’s not saying much. Toronto will be a constant threat with these. Advantage to the home side again.
Toronto’s attack is better than our D on paper, though a plan could be drawn to limit TFC. It will come down to can Roldan and Ozzie marking Gio out of the match, while allowing Marshall and Torres to stop Altidore. If they can be semi-effective as a quartet at that, the defense should yield less goals than the offense can score.