WASHINGTON – This might take some getting used to.
After a series of ambitious offseason moves that saw them bring in US international Michael Bradley, former Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe and Brazilian goalkeeper Júlio César, perennial cellar-dwellars Toronto FC have suddenly become an intimidating opponent.
After reviewing the footage from TFC's 2-1 victory over Seattle last weekend, D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen is convinced of one thing: "The hype is real."
United will look to bounce back from a disappointing 3-0 loss in their opener against the Columbus Crew when they travel north to take on TFC on Saturday afternoon (4:30 pm ET, TSN, MLS LIVE).
"[The hype is] real, and it's there for a reason," Olsen told MLSsoccer.com after his squad's training session on Wednesday morning. "It’s because of their players. I think [Bradley] is a guy any coach in this league would love to have. The on-field stuff, and what he brings from a leadership standpoint – he’s a guy that I would think anybody would want."
While Toronto's performance against Seattle was not exactly dominant – they looked shaky during stretches of the opening 45 minutes – TFC took their chances, something their past incarnations have failed to do.
Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio fed a perfectly weighted pass through to Defoe for TFC's first goal, and Defoe took advantage of an errant back pass for Toronto's game-winner. The pair of goals left the club with something few of their observers have seen in recent years: swagger.
"They have a different mentality in their camp," noted United assistant coach Chad Ashton. "They likely feel a confidence that they haven’t in the past. They’ve added guys with a reputation that precedes them – these guys are talking about championships now, not just making the playoffs."
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Defoe's speed and experience may indeed cause problems for a United backline that lacks familiarity, while Bradley's craftiness may certainly pose a threat through midfield. On Wednesday, however, after a week spent analyzing his side's loss to Columbus, Olsen seemed eager for Saturday to arrive.
"Defoe is a world-class forward," he said. "Obviously we don’t want to give him the opportunities that Seattle gave did. And they’ve got some other pieces around them that are very good as well – this is indeed a different team. I think we match up pretty well with them, though. The guys are champing at the bit to get back out there and show that we’ve moved forward as a group in the past two weeks."
Olsen also touched on former D.C. midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, who returned to TFC during the offseason and has made a habit over the years of punishing former employers.
"His motivation for this game – that’s something for Dwayne," he noted. "I think he overall enjoyed his time here and doesn’t have any ill will towards us. But I guarantee you he wouldn’t mind scoring on us. That’s just Dwayne. He’s a competitor."
Added Olsen: "We’re excited to go up there. We know it’s not going to be an easy game, but sometimes, that’s what you need. Bring it on."