Depth turns into key issue for MLS teams on Saturday

ShareClose Comments
Several key players missed matches on Saturday and it was the teams that were well-equipped to handle those losses that prevailed.

When Sebastian Giovinco and Erick 'Cubo' Torres were absent from their respective teams' lineups on Saturday, the easy reaction to those absences was to believe that Toronto FC and the Houston Dynamo would struggle without the focal points of their attacks.

Neither team did though. Instead, both relied on strong bench options to post a pair of impressive victories that saw several teams turn to their reserves and yield positive results in the process.

Toronto FC chose to rest a quartet of key starters for Saturday's visit to Seattle, a move that made sense considering that TFC played on Wednesday — beating Orlando City — and because coach Greg Vanney was a firm believer in his team's depth. Giovinco, Victor Vazquez, Steven Beitashour and Eriq Zavaleta were all left in Toronto for the rematch of last year's MLS Cup final, but instead of being overrun by the Sounders, TFC stood firm with its bench options on the way to a 1-0 victory.

Tabla shouldering attack for Montreal Impact

To be clear, Toronto relied first and foremost on its star players, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, who were central figures in the victory. Altidore earned the penalty he converted, and was a handful all match long. Bradley commanded the middle of the field, leading the way as TFC neutralized Seattle's potent attack.

Those two U.S. national team stars led the way, but they had help from the likes of Benoit Cheyrou, who was excellent in his first action of the season, as well as Jay Chapman, Jason Hernandez and Chris Mavinga, who were all serviceable and did their parts to preserve the victory.

Vanney said before the season began that it was important for him to make sure he put his bench to good use, not only for the varied options it provides, but also in order to keep his squad fresh for what will be another taxing season for a team that will compete on multiple fronts and has players like Altidore and Bradley, who have national team responsibilities that will also weigh on them.

Jozy Altidore Clint Dempsey Toronto FC Seattle Sounders MLS

The Dynamo didn't have to be quite as drastic in their shuffling of the lineup, but Wilmer Cabrera has been generous about spreading minutes around to help keep his team fresh after concerns began to surface about his the club's penchant for fading in the second half of matches. On Saturday, with Torres sidelined as he underwent concussion protocol, Cabrera turned to Mauro Manotas to start in place of Torres and the Colombian responded with a two-goal effort in an eventual 4-0 victory.

The Dynamo have done a good job of dealing with any injury issues that have come their way. DaMarcus Beasley missed some matches and Dylan Remick stepped up. A.J. DeLaGarza had to miss a few games and Cabrera was able to call on Boniek Garcia and Kevin Garcia.

Not every team had as easy a time coping with missing star players on Saturday. The Portland Timbers played without Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri against San Jose and endured their worst performance of the season. Meanwhile, the Earthquakes gave Danny Hoesen and Kofi Sarkodie rare starts, while giving Cordell Cato another runout at right back. All three played well in Saturday's victory, which helped the Earthquakes climb into fifth place in the West.

WATCH: Sapong hat trick for Philly

Article continues below

Good depth is especially important when dealing with fixture congestion, and TFC was the only one of three teams that played on Wednesday to win on Saturday. Orlando City looked tired in the loss to Houston, just four days after losing in Toronto. Jason Kreis tried to shake up his team in order to avoid that very fate, inserting five fresh starters, but it didn't keep the Lions from looking like a tired bunch.

The New York Red Bulls tried a different approach to dealing with a two-match week. Jesse Marsch kept Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan out of the starting lineup for the mid-week match, along with a handfull of others, and the predictable loss at Sporting Kansas City followed. The gamble didn't pay off though, as neither Wright-Phillips, Kljestan or any of the other six lineup changes made by the Red Bulls helped keep them from a surprising 3-0 loss to a Philadelphia Union side that hadn't won in almost nine months.

Though we are more than a quarter into the 2017 season, several teams are still trying to figure out their benches and identifying which reserve options are capable of making an impact, which are still adapting, and which just aren't working out. Saturday's results aren't likely to make Orlando City and the Red Bulls lose faith in their benches, but it's a safe bet both Vanney and Cabrera are feeling very good about their bench options as Toronto FC now sits in first place in the East, and the Dynamo sit in fourth place out West, well ahead of preseason expectations.

Next article:
Conte addresses Chelsea exit talk
Next article:
Harambee Stars keeper reveals secret behind his heroics
Next article:
Liverpool are no Man City, but the exploits of Coutinho, Salah & Co. should still be enjoyed
Next article:
President Kenyatta congratulate Harambee Stars for lifting Cecafa
Next article:
Former Chelsea star Mikel rules out Premier League return as Everton rumours surface
Close