People are so used to my trolling that they have a hard time telling when I'm serious. I saw that this morning when I predicted, via Twitter, that Toronto FC will beat the Los Angeles Galaxy today 2-1 at the Home Depot Center.
As you know, I hate Toronto FC and want them to suffer, so my wearing a Serious Pundit Hat and predicting they won't was a big moment for people who know me too well. Is it a reverse jinx? (Unlikely; I simultaneously predicted Seattle would lose.) Have I gone soft? Am I trolling by not trolling? Actually, that's a really good idea; maybe next I'll say that Matt Stinson is Canada's midfielder of the future.
Sadly, the truth is much more boring and much more horrifying: while Toronto by no means has today's game in the bag I have them favourites to win. This isn't to say that Los Angeles is bad, or that Toronto is good; it's to say that, under the circumstances, that team of average players led by some old men and a guy who was hired because he's Dutch have the advantage.
To be honest I haven't got much else to write about today, so here's a quick look at why Toronto FC should be on their way to the CONCACAF Champions League semi-final.
The Los Angeles Galaxy are a very good team that's even better on home grass. They're defending MLS Cup champions and odds-on favourites to repeat this year. But they've also always played Toronto a little soft: while the FCs have a losing record all-time against the Galaxy the two teams have drawn their last five meetings (counting last Wednesday's). Toronto's also won in Carson in the past, with a 3-2 win on April 13, 2008 on goals from Danny Dichio, Jarrod Smith, and an 88th-minute winner by Jeff Cunningham.
This is probably Toronto's best team ever: not good, exactly, but solid playoff contenders in the east with enough pieces that they should be in every game. Their immaturity stands out, and they lost composure awfully quickly when Los Angeles turned the pressure on last week, but athletically and technically they're not too many steps below Los Angeles.
The Galaxy, meanwhile, are getting just a little old: do you realize Landon Donovan just turned thirty? Highly-touted MLS returnee Edson Buddle is 31 in May? David Beckham and Robbie Keane, obviously, have thousands of miles on their odometers. And their pre-season was borderline lazy: five games in Carson where they were extremely poor, then a marginal tournament in Tucson. Maybe that's why they looked so out of shape on Saturday against Real Salt Lake. These are a bunch of old men who had a relatively easy time in pre-season: they're counting on being able to play themselves into shape.
That'll probably work out for an MLS Cup run, but when two of your first three games are CONCACAF Champions League matches it's catastrophic. I didn't have the chance to count scoring chances for the Galaxy - Real Salt Lake match, but I can guess what I would have seen: early superb play from Los Angeles, but their standard slipping lower and lower until the final half hour where Salt Lake was doing whatever they wanted. The Galaxy were a step and a half slow and completely lacked the firepower to fight back against a Salt Lake team that isn't that good. Their passing was sloppy, and when going down the flanks they tried aimless crosses rather than the usual aggressive but energy-consuming cuts inside which have overcome so many MLS fullbacks.
Edson Buddle's 71st minute goal was a lovely thing, and might make you think the Galaxy were going wel until that point. However, it came against the run of play through some fine team skill: the sort of thing the Galaxy will always be capable of but doesn't indicate the way the game was going at the time.
The Galaxy are carrying the fatigue of that extra game (Keane, Beckham, Buddle, and Donovan all went 90; Juninho played 21 minutes), while Toronto's been able to rest, recuperate, and prepare for an entire week. If Los Angeles were in full fitness I might write that advantage off, but they're clearly so far away from that I think it'll be huge. Toronto can come out firing, we know that: if Aron Winter assumes an aggressive posture early I'm not sure what the Galaxy will be able to do about it.
Los Angeles has an advantage in skill and chemistry over Toronto, but Toronto's skill and chemistry are sufficient while, athletically, they should have a big edge. The Home Depot Centre will feel less like a fortress than usual with attendance capped at 7,500 fans due to municipal bylaws. Again, it's no sure thing, but this feels like a Toronto win to me.