Wileman: Toronto FC to face tough test in champion Galaxy

Luke Wileman
3/27/2013 12:43:49 PM
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After a bye week, Toronto FC returns to action on Saturday as they play their first game at BMO Field this season, but the team's new found resilience and determination will face a stern test as the reigning MLS Champions arrive in town.

The Galaxy travel to Toronto unbeaten so far this season, with two wins and a draw from three matches played, as they look to create MLS history and become the first team to win the MLS Cup three years in a row. It's an achievement that is a very real possibility. In the second half of last season they were the best team in the league, and in my opinion, they remain so this time around.

LA's depth has been tested in the opening weeks of the year with key players missing and also balancing MLS and Champions League action. Last weekend they were missing Landon Donovan whose self-imposed exile is just ending, and also Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez. Keane is now recovering from a calf injury picked up while away with the Republic of Ireland, while Gonzalez will be back with LA in Toronto after a stellar performance for the United States in a 0-0 draw in Mexico earlier this week.

One player that will definitely be in the Los Angeles lineup is former Toronto FC defender Todd Dunivant. His departure from the Reds remains one of the most perplexing personnel decisions in the team's history, but his move to the Galaxy has been nothing but a success. He's reached the MLS Cup final three out of his four seasons in LA, winning twice.

Dunivant is now one of the veterans on the Los Angeles team and says the team's form in the early weeks of the season is proof that they are a sum of all their parts.

"Although we're seen as a team of stars and big names, there are a lot of guys that contribute," he said. "We took it on our shoulders to step our games up and fill in for those missing guys. The last game (a 1-0 win over Colorado) we didn't have Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez and guys stepped up and did a job. That's what good teams are all about, and we've been able to do that so far this year."

The Galaxy have also been able to rely on some of their youngsters stepping up. Academy products Jack McBean and Jose Villarreal have taken their chance well. "The youngsters have been great," explained Dunivant. "They're both Academy guys and came through the system. Those guys are fearless. They're doing well and being aggressive and scoring goals."

Of course it's not just about the players. In Bruce Arena, the Galaxy are led by a man who has coached his country at the World Cup, the Olympics and won four MLS Cups. It's a resume that is unmatched in North American soccer.

"He's the most successful coach in US history," Dunivant said of the 61-year-old. "The biggest thing he has done for us is keeping stability. He has kept our core together and successful teams need that stability. He could have pushed the panic button real easy last year when we were in last place, but he stuck with us and was rewarded for that."

Now the Galaxy are close to adding another big piece to their puzzle. After an extended off-season, a refreshed Donovan joined up with the team for their visit to meet President Obama at The White House on Tuesday.

"It is honestly like he has never left," said Dunivant. "To have Landon back in the group is about as easy a transition as there is. He has been our Captain for a long time now and to have him back is a huge addition because of his leadership and everything that he brings to the table."

"I think his return will be quicker than most people think. He has been working out, he is fit, and he is just one of those freaks of nature that can just do it naturally. He's itching to get going already and we're excited to have him back without a doubt."

For Dunivant, Saturday's match will be a special one. He spent two years in Toronto as the franchise was in its early days and loved his time in the city. But this visit will also have a little extra spice, as he goes up against one of his former teammates.

Dunivant was in the same team as Toronto head coach Ryan Nelsen during their college days at Stanford, and he had great admiration for the New Zealander's leadership skills even back then.

 "Ryan was special from day one. We came into Stanford together and played two years together."
"In his senior season he was the best player in the country without a doubt. He's a natural leader and an incredible guy. He has got the guys in Toronto playing exactly how he likes to play and they are made in his image. It will be a tough game without a doubt because we know they will be coming for us."

Toronto FC against LA Galaxy is live on 'MLS on TSN' on Saturday, March 30 at 2pm ET, 11 am PT on TSN

Todd Dunivant  (Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)


(Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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