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Three questions with Waking The Red

We spoke with James Grossi of Waking The Red, SB Nation’s Toronto FC blog, about the upcoming match between TFC and the Union.

Philadelphia Union vs Toronto FC Photo Gallery Trey Madara / Brotherly Game

Brotherly Game) It seems like the injury bug has hit Toronto FC hard over the last little bit, however since they've lost only once in their last ten it also hasn't slowed them down at all. Can you talk about the replacements for the injured Sebastian Giovinco, Clint Irwin, etc. and how they've been able to keep things running smoothly.

James Grossi, Waking The Red) Indeed, the injury bug that has bitten in Toronto would have laid a lesser team low. But the fact of the matter is that it has been a problem that the club has faced all season long: Jozy Altidore went down early in the year and again mid-May, Michael Bradley and Will Johnson both missed the entire month of July, while Sebastian Giovinco has been out for nearly a month now – he, admittedly has only missed two games thus far. And Clint Irwin, the starting keeper, has not played since June 25 – a span of 15 matches in all competitions.

Philadelphia Union vs Toronto FC Photo Gallery Trey Madara / Brotherly Game

And all that is not to mention the numerous other absences that have occurred throughout.

Two things have come into play: the management having built the potential for depth and those players stepping up when called upon.

When Altidore was out, it fell to both Mo Babouli and Jordan Hamilton to step into those shoes. Hamilton scored three in the league and several more in the Voyageurs Cup to get through that bind, while Babouli provided a solid foil for Giovinco.

When Bradley and Johnson were absent, it fell to Benoit Cheyrou, the savvy French veteran, who himself has missed some significant time, to take up the lion's share of that midfield general's role. Alongside him, players like Jay Chapman, Tsubasa Endoh, and Marky Delgado, as well as the stalwart Jonathan Osorio, filled those roles and did so with a certain flair and confidence that was unexpected.

With Giovinco out, the goal-scoring load has fallen on Altidore, whom, as shall be noted below, has been in remarkable form. His contribution has been supplemented by others – Osorio, Bradley, Drew Moor, etc – but Jozy has borne the brunt of filling such unfillable shoes.

And with the loss of Irwin, Alex Bono, a second-year draft pick out of Syracuse University has proved himself of starting calibre in MLS. An error in San Jose aside, he has scarcely put a foot wrong.

All the while, TFC has slowly been bringing in pieces to fill any needs. Tosaint Ricketts adds an element of pace that the front-line lacked; Armando Cooper some trickery, guile, and experience, while the convalescence of Mark Bloom and Dan Lovitz offers enhanced width and even more depth.

Credit must go to the front office for making the moves they did, to Greg Vanney for both having a vision and carrying it out, and to the players themselves for rising to the occasion.

tBG) While much of the talk around a possible treble seems to be focused on FC Dallas, Toronto is also in a position to win it as well (since they captured the Canadian Championship). How do you reconcile this reality against having only made the playoffs once in club history?

WTR) Yeah, it's strange territory that TFC find themselves in, given the club's past.

This being the club's tenth season, the story of those first eight can be summed up in a single word: dreadful. Many others come to mind, but that just about covers it; and is safe for polite use.

But in the last two there has been the establishment of a much-needed stability that has seen the club flourish.

Toronto has always been willing to spend money, of that there is no doubt, but it is the implementation of a wider-reaching plan and vision that has brought them to the point where talk of a treble is a mere statement of fact, not some wild hallucination.

In many ways, Philadelphia is experiencing something similar under the tutelage of Earnie Stewart, Jim Curtin, and company.

As to how such a proposition is being received in town, well... there's a cautious optimism. Fans and the media have been burned before when risking too positive an outlook on the side.

Take last season for example...

The club had the league's MVP and Golden Boot winner in Giovinco, which was a vital part of earning that first playoff-berth.

But, come the games that really mattered, they faltered.

In the final game of a season, where a victory would have seen them move up to third-place, guaranteeing a home playoff match – a long held desire, TFC fell 2-1 in Montreal, setting up a Knockout Round contest with the Impact at Stade Saputo.

And in that do-or-die game, a woeful 21-minute spell saw the long work of a season crumble, as they conceded three goals to Montreal, in tragi-comic style.

There have been elements of that seeming-eventuality this season too – the collapse in New York against the Red Bulls, the failures to score against under-manned opponents, and a home loss to that same Montreal (the single aforementioned loss in the last ten matches).

So until anything comes to pass, folks are likely to temper their expectations.

tBG) How has Jozy Altidore regained his form? He was ice cold until the end of July and has since exploded, scoring eight goals since July 31st.

WTR) It is perhaps a little unfair to say that Altidore was ice cold, but the larger point is valid: he had yet to score a single goal in MLS through 2016 until that July day, and since then he hasn't looked back.

Looking back to January, many were marvelling at the new, improved, svelter Altidore. In an attempt to address the recurring hamstring troubles, he had slimmed down a touch, sacrificing some of his upper-body bulk for the good of the whole.

And through international action and training camp, he looked a constant threat.

But then a hamstring issues resurfaced, which saw him miss the end of preseason and the start of the campaign.

Having sat the first two matches, Altidore would be worked back in as a substitute, rejoining the starting eleven just as TFC began the close of their eight-match road trip – a segment that saw them collect two wins, a draw, and a single loss in the final four matches. He was not scoring, but that hardly matters when the team is winning, as Altidore himself has made plain.

More to that point, Altidore was doing everything else for the team: providing an outlet, getting involved in the build-up, tracking back defensively, closing down the ball. It was a near-perfect game he was playing, something perhaps too easily overlooked.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

But then, Mid-May came a recurrence of that injury, as he was taking a penalty kick that was saved against Vancouver. With it, Altidore was out of the lineup for nine matches, before making his return at the end of July with a quartet of sub roles.

That goal, his first, came in the second such appearance, he registered an assist in the third, and another in the fourth. He was then back amongst the starters, going on to score in four-straight – he now has eight goals in his last ten appearances, as well as two assists.

He would argue that his form never left him, merely that injury had laid him low – which is valid. Perhaps he is finally seeing the fruits of the decision to make a change in the off-season and the goals are a natural corollary of that.

That said, there have been some subtle differences. He is taking up more dangerous positions, he is taking more shots, and he is being more physical – as poor Ken Tribbett saw in the last meeting. Part of that could be that a rested and fit Altidore is facing defenders knee-deep in the MLS summer grind, but it cannot be denied that there is a verve to his game that is more than welcome.

Injuries, suspensions, etc.) OUT: Jay Chapman, Ashtone Morgan. QUESTIONABLE: Sebastian Giovinco, Mark Bloom, Tosaint Ricketts. SUSPENDED: Armando Cooper

Predicted lineup: Alex Bono; (4-3-1-2 – R to L): Steven Beitashour, Eriq Zavaleta, Drew Moor, Justin Morrow; Will Johnson, Michael Bradley, Marky Delgado; Jonathan Osorio; Jozy Altidore & Jordan Hamilton

Little reason for Vanney to change much from the weekend against New York, but were he to, the most likely changes would come up top – with Giovinco in for Hamilton, if fit – and in midfield with either Armando Cooper or Tsubasa Endoh coming in for Delgado. Though it is possible that Vanney goes with the old 3-5-2, just to throw a different look at the Union – gotta keep 'em guessing.