Sebastian Giovinco, MVP candidate

Image: Tom Szczerbowski

After a couple months off, Major League Soccer returns to action this weekend. With all of the teams facing off against each other, we’re going to focus on a battle in the east between Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls. Between them, these two clubs possess two of the most potent offenses from last season. Both of them made it to the playoffs last time around, but the Red Bulls made it significantly further than their Canadian opponents. In this clash of league heavyweights, who can get their season off to a winning start?

Let’s take a look at Toronto to start. The main man to watch has to be reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco. I feel like I’ve talked about him every other time I’ve written about Toronto, but there’s a reason for that. The Italian is without a doubt the best striker in the league. Despite his small frame, he has the strength necessary to hold on to the ball, and the nose for goal that makes him a constant threat in the final third. Last year, Giovinco embarrassed the Red Bulls’ defense with this golazo; look for him to make a similar impact this time around.

As I mentioned in my MLS predictions, the weak point of Toronto’s squad is their defense. The Canadian club shared the worst defensive record in the league last year, and this poor defense was a factor in their early playoff departure. Over the offseason, Toronto brought in some veterans to bolster their porous backline with the likes of Drew Moor and Steve Beitashour added to the roster. The Red Bulls attack should provide Toronto’s rebuilt defense a good test to start the season. Will it match the quality of the offense, or will the backline continue to hinder the club’s title ambitions?

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Last season, the Red Bulls were hands down the best team in the East during the regular season. This was in large part due to their league leading attack. Jesse Marsch was lucky enough to have two double-digit goal scorers in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Lloyd Sam. Even if those two somehow didn’t manage to find the back of the net, the Red Bulls had plenty of other players that were capable of scoring. At the conclusion of the season, 15 different players had registered a goal for the club. The early portion of the match might be the host’s best time to put the match to bed as Toronto’s new backline works for chemistry. It would be a big surprise if the Red Bulls were shutout on Sunday.

Over the offseason, the Red Bulls lost one of the league’s brightest defensive prospects when Matt Miazga made the move to Chelsea. The 20-year-old started 28 games for New York in a center back role, and was a major reason that the club finished with the best defensive record in the conference. His departure leaves room for a player from the club’s newest batch of youngsters to step in. Over the offseason, the Red Bulls signed five defensive players (four of those coming from the draft or the academy). My guess is that Gideon Baah, who was most recently playing in Helsinki, will get the nod to start alongside Ronald Zubar in the heart of the defense.

As much as I love Toronto’s attacking duo of Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, I don’t think that their defense can handle the Red Bulls’ attack. Look for a high scoring game to open the MLS season as the Red Bulls outlast Toronto. Final Score: Red Bulls 3-2 Toronto


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