Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool take the pitch for the first time to face Toronto in the opening act of their North American tour. Toronto enter the match stapled to the bottom of the Eastern Conference table but are on a three match winning streak, and while tomorrow's meeting with Liverpool has nothing riding on it, they'll be looking to maintain some of that form over the ten day MLS break so they can hit the ground running as the second half of the season gets underway.
It always takes a little bit of extra effort to get back in the swing of things as far as normal service on our end of things goes--during the middle of the season, slogging out previews and matchday threads and recaps sort of becomes force of habit, at least until the club are playing so horrifically bad that recaps fall by the wayside and we turn our attentions to the mysteries of the deep.
So this'll probably be a little piecemeal, partly because it's hard to get too riled up for a preseason friendly, and partly because there's very little that I know about Toronto. Or Liverpool at this point, given that they're still missing a healthy contingent of first-team squad members. But it's football, and what seems like an eternity has passed since the busy part of the European Championships ended, so we can at least look forward to having a much-needed distraction from what is or isn't happening for Liverpool in the transfer window.
As noted above, Toronto have had a rough go during the first half of the MLS season--they lost their first nine matches, a league record, before grabbing all three points over Philadelphia in May. Since that win they've only lost twice, working their way within a point of the Union and just three back of Columbus in sixth and New England in seventh, who are level on points with 22.
Supporters of European football will recognize Torsten Frings immediately, the former German international who's now a designated player for the Canadian side. Danny Koevermans led Toronto with nine goals, all of which came in a ten-match stretch from April to early July, but he's out injured after coming off in the first half against New England with a torn ACL. Frings has chipped in two and Ryan Johnson, a Jamaican international, is runner-up with four. It's not likely we get an extended look at any of their regulars, but without a single representative in the All-Star squad, they'll probably all get some time. Head coach Paul Mariner stressed the importance of balancing much-needed rest with still giving a good account of themselves, so, like Liverpool, we'll probably see a rotation of regulars and youngsters.
Flanagan Carragher Agger Enrique
Shelvey Spearing Aquilani
Cole Eccleston Sterling
Hey, guess what, I have absolutely no idea what Brendan Rodgers will do tomorrow. Is that obvious?
The names missing obviously make it more difficult, but picking a preseason eleven with the entire squad present is just as hard. All of the players from England's Euro squad--Glen Johnson, Martin Kelly, Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, Stewart Downing, and Andy Carroll--aren't yet with the squad, and those taking part in the Olympics--Luis Suarez and Sebastian Coates for Uruguay, Craig Bellamy for Great Britain--won't be around until mid-August at the earliest. No injuries have been reported as of yet, although there'll likely (and hopefully) be plenty of caution taken with Lucas.
There'll be some sort of rotation through the back peppering experience with youth, and Rodgers has plenty of both to call upon. Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel, Jose Enrique, and Daniel Agger should all see time, and Danny Wilson, Jack Robinson and Jon Flanagan, each of whom have played in the first team, will also figure into the plans. But there's also a number of recognizable youth or reserve team players that traveled, with Andre Wisdom, Stephen Sama, Brad Smith, and Ryan McLaughlin all playing regularly throughout the last few seasons.
I'm most curious about what happens ahead of defense, obviously, as those are the areas where there's very few--at least in the preseason--known quantities. I'll again preach caution with Lucas and expect Jay Spearing to play a part, and it'd be interesting to see how (if at all) Rodgers uses Alberto Aquilani. I'm guessing Jonjo Shelvey sees the maximum amount Rodgers will allow, and Charlie Adam will probably make his way on at some point.
Up top we're left with attack-minded midfielders and a handful of players that haven't made a breakthrough with the senior squad. Joe Cole is the most senior of that group, and Dani Pacheco, Raheem Sterling, and Nathan Eccleston have each played a few minutes at some point. Beyond that it's Jordon Ibe, Adam Morgan, and Krisztian Adorjan for now, which will make for an interesting (and very green) Liverpool attack.
The preseason is for building form and fitness, and those will always be top priorities. But this season's got a little different flavor to it--Liverpool's been talking about rebuilding since Rafa was forced out and Roy Hodgson arrived, and while both Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish tried to put their mark on their respective squads, Brendan Rodgers is the first manager since Rafa that's had a clear vision for how he wants his side to line up, and there's an air of expectancy about what they'll be able to produce.
Tomorrow's match will kick off at 9:00PM BST/4:00PM EST, with television coverage stateside on Fox Soccer Channel and ESPN in the UK. We'll run a matchday thread with team sheets and any relevant news a few hours ahead of kickoff tomorrow, with updates throughout the day depending on what comes available. Those who've made the transition with us know that the matchday threads can be some of the most active and enjoyable, so we're hoping to see folks throughout the day.
Hope everyone has a nice Friday, and we'll see you back here tomorrow.