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Signal Intel: Reds swaggering into showdown with Fire

Oliver Platt of Waking the Red completes our question-and-answer ritual

MLS: Portland Timbers at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Hot Time: How has the partnership with Giovinco changed Jozy Altidore's game over the last couple of years? Are there aspects of the classic big-little striker pairing that still elude him?

Waking the Red: I would actually come at this from a different angle. To me, the biggest challenge Toronto had with Altidore was convincing him that he was not there to be part of a big-little striker pairing and, by implication, to serve Seba.

There are aspects of Altidore's game, of course, that help Giovinco; he can hold the ball up, occupy defenders, draw fouls and so on.

But Altidore has come into his own since he got a little more selfish. Now, he'll turn defenders rather than laying the ball off, drive into the box and play with the aggression he lost at Sunderland.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but it's since he got back into that mindset that his partnership with Giovinco has really blossomed because at their best, they're both so dynamic and unpredictable. We now see Altidore taking charge and playing off Giovinco - like this:

as well as vice versa.

HT: I've long had the theory that Michael Bradley will assign himself 'whatever work is left' when it's time to take responsibilities in the midfield, and that it is this tendency which explained his middling form in 2016 - he was simply mentally overextended, trying to take charge of too many phases of play. According to that theory, the addition of Victor Vazquez has helped Bradley improve just by taking responsibility for some of those phases of play. Am I loony?

WtR: No, you're not. I think your reasoning essentially explains the difference - until recently - between his Toronto form and his USA form. The Costa Rica mess is exhibit A: he had Jermaine Jones rampaging around next to him in a flat 4-4-2 and was left to pick up the pieces.

Bradley ended last season very well - he was the best player on the pitch by a mile in the MLS Cup final, in my opinion - so I would say that, like just about everyone, he has reached his peak as a result of Greg Vanney figuring out the team's ideal system (3-5-2). It's certainly true that Vazquez has taken some of the creative burden off him, though, and he's excellent at finding pockets of space and receiving the ball on the half-turn - which obviously helps make Bradley's life building up attacks from deep easier.

As far as I'm concerned Bradley has been Toronto's best player this year and should be an MVP nominee (he won't be).

HT: Toronto and Chicago both were quiet during the summer transfer window, standing pat with expensive rosters. Was that the right move for the Reds, in your opinion? If not, where should they have bolstered their squad?

WtR: Yes, I think so. Nicolas Hasler filled their only real need, which was to add some insurance at right wing-back behind Steven Beitashour. They now have depth in every position and this group deserves the chance to take another run at the Cup; they got the upgrades they needed in the winter by signing Vazquez and Chris Mavinga.

There was some speculation as to whether or not they might take some allocation money for someone like Armando Cooper or Jonathan Osorio, who have fallen down the pecking order. In any other year that would have made sense, but when you're all in I think you want to keep everyone who could potentially make even the smallest contribution around.

Injuries/suspensions: Nick Hagglund and Benoit Cheyrou are both out. Beitashour is fit again and has travelled, but may not be rushed back for this one as Hasler's adaptation has been pretty smooth.

Predicted lineup: Bono; Zavaleta, Moor, Mavinga; Hasler, Delgado, Bradley, Vazquez, Morrow; Altidore, Giovinco.