Preview: Can Toronto FC slow down new D.C. United star Taxi Fountas?
Toronto FC will want to keep a close eye on Taxi Fountas on Saturday when the Reds travel to Audi Field to take on D.C. United on Saturday.
D.C.’s new star attacker has made quite the impact on his new squad since making his debut last month, scoring five goals and adding two assists in six appearances (four starts).
“[Taxi Fountas] seems to be a pretty key player for them,” said veteran defender Shane O’Neill from the BMO Training Ground on Wednesday. “I think everything else is pretty much similar to what we saw earlier in the season – gritty, direct – but now they seem to have a little bit of a difference maker that we’re going to need to be aware of and make sure we’re dialed in because … he seems to be hurting teams.”
The 26-year-old Greek Designated Player, who is a fringe member of Greece’s national team, initially signed a pre-contract agreement to join D.C. United as a free agent this summer when his contract with Austria's Rapid Vienna would expire, but D.C. and Rapid later reached an agreement over compensation for Fountas to join immediately. The Washington Post reported that the transfer fee was around $400,000 – and it’s looking early on like it may be a good bit of business.
“He’s forming chemistry with a lot of guys, you can see it in practice,” Interim Head Coach Chad Ashton said when asked about Fountas after United’s 3-2 win over New England Revolution on April 23. “He just understands the game very well. He’s a difference-maker, obviously. He hasn’t played a game in a while, so to just see him that sharp and be emotionally bought into the group that much is really exciting. I know the group is super happy to have him here and obviously he had a massive night tonight, but he’s that kind of player. We expect performances to keep coming like that from him.”
“Taxi is awesome, he really is,” added D.C. goalkeeper Jon Kempin postgame. “He’s really gelled already with the team off the field as well. He doesn’t speak too much English, but he’s a little bit of a jokester, so with the kind of little bit of English that he knows, he’s always smiling, always laughing, and that’s that positive energy that our team needs in the locker room."
Fountas scored twice and added an assist in the victory over the Revs – Ashton’s first game in charge of the club following the dismissal of Hernán Losada – and ‘Taxi’ hasn’t slowed down since, putting the league on notice with his flair and ability to change the game in a matter of moments.
Neither the Greek international nor Ashton were with D.C. (4-6-1) when they made the trip to Toronto (3-7-2) earlier this season. On that day, TFC came away with a 2-1 victory after falling behind early, coming from behind on the back of two Luca Petrasso assists to earn all three points.
Speaking to head coach Bob Bradley on Thursday, he’s expecting a similar looking D.C. side to the one TFC saw earlier in the year despite the manager change and addition of Fountas.
“After they made the coaching change, Chad has kept a lot of the same ideas. They still play more out of a 3-4-2-1,” said Bradley. “Taxi Fountas has been a good addition, he’s quick, he finds good spots … [They’re] a team that I think responded to a coaching change and the arrival of Fountas, and now are working through some things.”
Toronto FC are working through a few things themselves, namely trying to put an end to a five-game losing streak.
The Reds haven’t scored in each of their last three games, but there’s hope that the re-insertion of Jonathan Osorio back into the lineup – the Canadian international scored the game-winner vs. D.C. back in March – will help to create more opportunities up front.
“Sharpness is decision making,” said Bradley, when asked how the team can create more goal-scoring opportunities. “Those are things that determine when you get advantages, whether you get a really good chance, whether you score, or whether it just goes away. When we look at our group right now, that level is not as high as it needs to be.
“… When [Osorio’s] healthy, and he’s sharp, and the ball moves quickly through the midfield like it does in most games … then we see some good things. We’ve scored some good goals. When Oso’s out, obviously we’re not quite as good at finding some of those moments.”
Osorio missed the last three games with a lower-body injury but was a full participant in training this week. He’ll likely be on a minutes restriction, but all signs point to the return of Toronto’s veteran midfielder.
The same can’t be said about 2020 MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo, who missed last Saturday’s game with what the team described as ‘tightness’. The Spanish midfielder has been training on his own this week, but Bradley told reporters that he is not sure yet where the team will be with him (or Jacob Shaffelburg) for Saturday’s game.
Since Toronto beat United on March 19, D.C. has lost four games, won twice, and drew once. They’re coming off a midweek defeat to New York City FC – a game in which coach Ashton rested stars Fountas and Julian Gressel for half the match.
The match was originally slated to kickoff at 4 p.m. ET, but due to expected high temperatures and humidity, Major League Soccer pushed kick-off back to 6:30 p.m. ET.
PREDICTED TORONTO FC STARTING XI
(4-2-3-1) Bono; Thompson, Salcedo, O’Neill, Petrasso; Bradley, Osorio; Kerr, Pozuelo, Nelson; Jiménez
Toronto FC: Kadin Chung (OUT), Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty (OUT), Chris Mavinga (OUT), Noble Okello (OUT), Jonathan Osorio (Questionable), Alejandro Pozuelo (Questionable), Jacob Shaffelburg (Questionable)
D.C. United: Adrien Perez (OUT), Moses Nyeman (OUT), Chris Odoi-Atsem (OUT), Andy Najar (OUT), Gaoussou Samake (OUT), Nigel Robertha (Questionable)
Toronto FC (+440) | D.C. United (-182) | Draw (+330)