Photo by Shaun Merritt


Match Preview: Toronto FC vs. Minnesota United FC

by on 12 May 2017

One team has the best goal differential in MLS. One team has the worst goal differential in MLS. That’s the story at a glance. In reality, things are more nuanced. Minnesota is coming off a big confidence boost after thumping Kansas City 2-0 and has been a new team since bolstering its defense via trade. Toronto has been on a legendary hot streak with five straight wins, but will surely be drained as it plays its fourth game in 10 days. With some squad rotation likely for Toronto, this game is hardly David vs. Goliath.

Recent form

Toronto W W W W W +8
Minnesota W L W D L -10

Previous meetings

The only time the two clubs previously met came in this year’s preseason. During a rainy match in Orlando, Toronto handed the Loons a humbling 3-0 loss during a final tune up before the regular season. A lot of water has gone under a lot of bridges since then, and the two teams facing each other Saturday will bear little resemblance to their February counterparts.

Community match ratings

Using FiftyFive.One’s community match ratings polls we will take a look at who’s hot, who’s not, and who needs to get a look.

Who’s up?

Player 3-game avg. rating (minimum 125 minutes)
Bobby Shuttleworth 7.6
Francisco Calvo 7.2
Miguel Ibarra 7.1

Who’s down?

Player 3-game avg. rating (minimum 125 minutes)
Johan Venegas 5.1
Kevin Molino 5.9
Ibson 6.2

It is tough to argue with ironman Bobby Shuttleworth, who has allowed one goal in three games despite taking a serious knock to the head last month and then playing through a broken nose last Sunday. Francisco Calvo went from trending down to trending up via two lights-out defensive performances. Finally, Ibarra served up two assists and an MLS Team of the Week performance against Kansas City and appears to have the left wing on lockdown.

Moving in the other direction, Johan Venegas didn’t see the field on Sunday after a poor performance against San Jose the week prior; the success of Abu Danladi against Kansas City will not do Venegas any favors. Kevin Molino, once one of the few immovable rocks on the team, has taken more of a back seat as Ibarra has helped activate the left wing and relaxed some of the weight on Molino. Finally, Ibson continues a long tradition of being either loved or loathed by fans, often simultaneously, and sits on a not-precisely-shameful 6.2 rating over the past three games.


Referee Allen Chapman
Assistant Adam Wienckowski
Assistant Jeremy Hanson
Fourth Dave Gantar

Allen Chapman is an interesting study in refereeing this year. He has posted the second fewest fouls-per-game this year at 19.9, but is third highest in yellows with 4.6. This can mean a lot of things; often it points to an official letting two teams go at it, which eventually leads to more reckless challenges. Also interesting is for what his yellow cards have been issued. Five of his 32 yellow cards have been for dissent, second among all referees. Six of his yellows have been for delay or what is termed “failure to respect the required distance.” All of these are sort of “meta” fouls that have more to do with how the game is conducted than how it’s played, so players would be wise to keep the gamesmanship to a minimum.

Roster report

Toronto FC
D Drew Moor (cardiac arrhythmia) – Out
D Ashtone Morgan (fractured foot) – Out
F Sebastian Giovinco (heel injury) – Questionable

Minnesota United
M Bernardo Añor (hamstring injury) – Out
D Thomas de Villardi (left Achilles) – Out
D Marc Burch (left hip) – Questionable

Tactical outlook

Not nearly enough water has been thrown on the smoldering hot enthusiasm of United’s 2-0 win over Sporting Kansas City. Sporting was only playing a single starter on their back line as they recovered from a short week, and they paid the price. Igor Julião was torched by Miguel Ibarra, but it was not so much that Ibarra physically outplayed him (though he did) as that Julião was not seeing some painfully obvious runs Ibarra was making. Minnesota now faces Toronto on short rest, but Toronto appears to be a little deeper than Kansas City.

Toronto typically likes to come out in a rare-in-MLS 3-5-2 formation, with Steven Beitashour and Raheem Edwards on the outside channels not only shuttling the ball forward but also keeping the midfield congested to shield their backline. Edwards, particularly, has been terrorizing defenses on the left flank and likes to push high.

However, on the road against Seattle (and also on short rest) Toronto played in a more conservative 5-4-1, with Edwards featuring in the defense. Part of this was to stifle a potent Sounders attack. Additionally, Sebastian Giovinco was not available to start that match (if he’s healthy, you find a way to get him in your lineup). Whatever the reason, it all influences the way Minnesota will need to approach the game Saturday.

If Toronto shows its preferred 3-5-2 with Edwards on the left, right back Jérôme Thiesson may need to stay home a bit more versus getting forward as he is wont to do. Toronto has enough attacking talent that teams cannot allow its left winger to hit line drives into the box all afternoon. Against that 3-5-2, Minnesota will probably find more success attacking up the left side (the triumvirate of Jay Chapman/Marco Delgado, Steven Beitashour, and Eriq Zavaleta should leave more holes than their counterparts on Minnesota’s right side).

The big question for United is how to stop forwards Jozy Altidore and Giovinco. Earnest prayer might be the most effective option, but short of that there are a couple of strategies to consider. First, given Toronto’s potent attack, United could move to a dual No. 6 lineup using Sam Cronin alongside Collen Warner as defensive midfielders. It’s a conservative ploy, but warranted against top teams on the road.

Additionally, Minnesota can double down on something it has done very well at times, particularly against Kansas City and in its first game against Colorado: close down players on the ball quickly and in swarms. If Altidore, Giovinco, and company don’t have time to perform their magic when on the ball, they can be neutralized to an extent. Of course, if you press three guys on Giovinco and he dribbles around all of them, he will be left with acres of space. But that’s the fun of gambling.

How will it play out?

Even if Toronto rests some starters, it is unlikely to come out soft at home. The Reds will attack up the wings and fold the ball in centrally, and it falls on Minnesota to see how organized it can be in defense. For their part, the Loons will be keeping an eye on Toronto’s lineup and should look for cracks in the Reds’ armor, accordingly. It becomes, as it always has, a game of chess. United, however, may be pushing for the stalemate this time.

Toronto will win if…

If this weren’t MLS, one could probably bet some amount of money that uses at least one comma on Toronto winning. Toronto is the most well-rounded team in the league (alongside FC Dallas), has a powerful attack, has beat top teams this year, and is playing at home with Giovinco likely to return. It’s a no-brainer.

Minnesota will win if…

This is MLS. In MLS, every team is a Leicester City; either an unheralded bottom feeder rising above it all to staggering victory, or erstwhile champions free falling from deserved glory. Minnesota cracked the toughest shell in the league against Kansas City, no matter the caveats. Why can’t Minnesota stifle the league’s best offense, too? It is MLS, after all.

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