Mellberg's not coming? I still have to play Centre back?
Well, it's been eons since Toronto FC kicked a meaningful ball (well since last Wednesday, but in the context of the season, that's a huge gap.) and with the help of that break in the schedule, they'll be taking a 20 day unbeaten run into Saturday's game against Houston. That does of course include a winning streak as great as any the team has ever seen, 3 whole games.
3 is a big number in the context of Houston this year. It is of course the site of the infamous club Escobar where the TFC 3 gained their international notoriety. We got a timely denouement to that saga on Thursday when one of the 3, number 3 Miguel Aceval joined his brother in arms Nick Soolsma in the 'left by mutual consent' club, so he sadly won't have the chance to wreak his vengeance on Houston (click here for the special Aceval commemorative jersey). That was after the MarinerEra got off to a frighteningly bad and very Winter-esque start in Kansas City, but in the game that followed just 3 days after that wild Sunday, TFC stunned everyone by scoring 3 times before half time. Sadly they couldn't hold on to the lead, withdrawing further and further, allowing Houston to attack more and more and giving up the last minute equaliser for the 3-3 tie.
Despite that late collapse, the first half goal explosion was the start of the long climb back to respectability that finally saw TFC move out of the basement, replaced by a freefalling Portland Timbers side. If results go TFC's way this weekend, they could very conceivably also leapfrog Philadelphia to move into 9th in the eastern conference, and though it's unlikely due to goal difference, it's mathematically possible they could get up to 15th overall. Heady times indeed.
Will the mini break help TFC get a result on Saturday, or was it a cruel interruption of a hot streak? It certainly won't be easy as this is the game of the week in MLS. TFC have the 2nd best record in the entire league over their last 5 games, the only team ahead of them is of course the Dynamo, who are on a 3 game win streak of their own.
That's part of a 6 game unbeaten streak, 4 wins and 2 draws, 11 goals for and only 2 against, though to downplay that a little 5 of those games have been at home, catching up from a long road trip to start the season while the new stadium got built.
Another part of that 6 game streak is their Honduran DP midfielder Boniek Garcia who arrived at the start of the run and has played 90 minutes in all of those games. He and Brad Davis have been setting up plenty of goals, Calen Carr scored a couple against Sporting Kansas City, while Macoumba Kandji scored 2 against Montreal last Saturday. Toronto of course knows all about Will Bruin who scored twice against them in that game back in June.
It all sounds a bit ominous really, but take heart as Houston are hopeless when they cross the border. TFC won in 2007, on an Andy Welsh goal. Andy Welsh!, 2008 saw a 1-1 tie, as did 2009 and 2010, 2011 saw a Joao Plata inspired 2-1 win, and they also lost 1-0 to Vancouver. 2011 Vancouver! this year they've already lost 3-1 in Vancouver and 4-2 in Montreal. We already extended one streak of futility with Colorado once again not winning at BMO Field, can TFC do it again?
They will of course have to do it without Danny Koevermans who scored 2 of the 3 in Houston, and with Eric Hassli just arriving in Toronto today, and either injured or just freshly recovered or whatever his status might be, I'd say it's a safe bet he won't be in the starting lineup either. So it'll be the same group that in the end comfortably beat a pretty woeful Colorado side way back when.
What's that? You thought we'd at least have a shiny new centre back by now? oh ho, no no no. It's very murky as to exactly what went wrong with the Mellberg trade, whether MLS officially nixed it, or imposed some kind of onerous condition on the deal that forced TFC to be the ones to officially say no. We'll probably never know the real truth, (Paul mariner offered a simple 'no comment' when asked about it by Nigel Reed on his show on Thursday night) but either way, it looks like the window will be closing with a Freddy Hall shaped whimper rather than a triumphant slam, and it'll still be Eckersley and Emory in the middle.
That does at least make predicting a lineup easier, Kocic in goal obviously, and with Jeremy Hall reported as still recovering from a hamstring strain, it should be an unchanged backline of Doneil Henry, Richard Eckersley, Logan Emory and Ashtone Morgan. In midfield, you can nail down that we'll be seeing Torsten Frings, Terry Dunfield and Reggie Lambe, and Ryan Johnson will definitely be one of the two up front.
That leaves one midfield spot and one forward place up for grabs. the safe option would be to continue with Eric Avila in midfield and Luis Silva up front, Silva's got goals in 2 straight games and looked good there against Colorado. The other option would be to drop Silva to midfield and bring in one of the new forwards, either Andrew Wiedeman or Quincy Amarikwa. I think they'll both be on the bench and we'll see Silva up front, meaning an unchanged starting lineup from the Colorado game.
Will that be good enough to get that unprecedented 4th straight win? Houston are a very different proposition to Colorado, more talented, more in form, with a wider variety of players that can hurt you. The 5 wins TFC have this year have come against some underwhelming opposition, Philadelphia at the time were awful, Montreal, New England and Colorado are all non playoff teams and Vancouver were struggling towards the end of a 5 game road trip. It's a good sign when you can beat the teams that you should be beating, but it's a step up to start getting results against the better teams in the league. If TFC can get 3 points here, it'll be the most impressive win of the season so far.
I don't think we will though. The defence as is isn't good enough to get a clean sheet against Houston, and unless Hassli does play a significant part in the game, I don't think we'll have the firepower to outscore the Dynamo.
I'll go with another streak maintained, with a slightly unsatisfying but still kind of admirable 1-1 draw.