Finally the chance for a significant blow to be landed in the battle for the basement. On the back of their earlier 3 game win streak and a couple of big defeats for Portland, Toronto FC did actually briefly make it off the bottom of the overall standings recently, if only on goal difference. Sadly, that was followed by two defeats, meaning the Timbers' only point in their last 6 games was enough to vault them back into the comfortable ground floor apartment of 18th place. Win here and TFC can move 2 points ahead, lose and they'll be 4 back. A veritable 6 pointer, and perhaps the closest thing to a league game that means something that TFC will see all year.
A shame then that we'll have to do it without the 5 players called up for international duty, Canadian and otherwise. Doneil Henry, Terry Dunfield and Ryan Johnson will have to be replaced in what had been a fairly consistent first team, and Dicoy Williams and Darren O'Dea won't be available to take their place. Add in Jeremy Hall's injury he picked up in Chicago, and Logan Emory's suspension from the same game (which he would have served on Saturday if not for the postponement of the game in Columbus) and there's few options available for Paul Mariner.
To be fair, in his post training interview today, aside from a little bit of bemoaning his luck, Mariner isn't looking to use it as an excuse, which is a good thing really, as the squad was ridiculously light (ie not even putting out a full bench, at home, light)even before all the callups, as the rebuilding of the team takes longer than it did to get rid of the players he wasn't keen on. The positive spin on the problem is that it gives a chance for players to show what they can do and make it difficult for Mariner to take their starting spot away when everyone comes back.
Obviously most of the starting positions are fairly certain things, Milos kocic in goal, Richard Eckersley for some reason seems to be a fixture at Centre Back so will be there again as opposed to going back to his Right Back spot., and Ashtone Morgan will once again be his usual Nasty Left Back self. Torsten Frings will be in one of the defensive midfield spots, Reggie Lambe will be on the Right Wing and Eric Hassli will be up front.
That leaves 5 spots and Mariner seemed more than happy to play fill in the blanks with most of those. He suggested Luis Silva would be up front alongside Eric Hassli, bringing up an obscure 1970's QPR reference to describe Silva as the grab to Hassli's smash. He also confirmed Aaron Maund would be in midfield rather than going back to help out in defence. Maund's made a few sub appearances recently, usually coming on to try and secure the midfield late in the game, with mixed success. How he does in a starting role alongside Torsten Frings should be well worth watching and could play a big role in the result. If the likes of Diego Chara or the man with the best first name in MLS Darlington Nagbe can have their way with Maund, it could be a long night.
Mariner also all but confirmed Adrian Cann will be back in the middle of defence, saying he'd more than likely be the one charged with taking on Kris Boyd, with Richard Eckersley joining him and ready to use his speed to clean up any mistakes and make his usual last ditch tackles should it come to that. It should be a very interesting test for Cann, to be put up against Boyd in his first full game back. Descriptions of Darren O'Dea, commanding, physical and kind of slow suggest he's a very similar player to Cann, and two of that type of player wouldn't be the best partnership so chances for Cann to prove his worth may well be few and far between for the rest of the season.
If 'Right Back Eckersley' is in the middle again, well I guess that means Centre Back Ty Harden will be on the right. Aside from some minutes against Liverpool, that'll be his first action in a long time, since the Easter weekennd game against Montreal, nothing can go wrong here can it?
That just leaves the left wing spot, in recent games Andrew Wiedeman has been preferred over Eric Avila, but really hasn't done all that much, so more than likely Avila will be given the chance to prove himself, and at least get himself back to 'usable option' off the bench status that seems to have slipped away from him in the last month or so.
As for the subs bench, well it could be very short indeed. There'll be Wiedeman, along with Freddy Hall and Quincy Amarikwa. The only other options are Keith Makubuya, Oscar Cordon and Quillan Roberts. Mariner hasn't bothered filling all the spots on the bench in the past, passing up the chance to put Makubuya or Cordon on there, but you'd think he'd do it this time if only to give the maximum number of options. Even if he does, that'd still leave one spot open, call Rick Titus, or hey see what Javier Martina's doing, he's always done well against Portland.
Can this patched up, ragtag bunch of ne'er-do-wells beat the odds and finally, definitively move on up out of the basement? Can they stop the rot at a 2 game losing streak? If they do, it'll probably be in a high scoring game, there's too much individual quality in the Timbers for this makeshift defence to keep out. TFC got 3 against Donovan Ricketts in Montreal, we may well need to do the same again here, so let's hope Hassli can impress on his home debut, or Silva or Lambe or somebody can step up and take care of business. If not, given TFC's upcoming tough schedule, that 4 point gap is going to look huge.