The corresponding fixture last season saw a woeful Toronto FC, coming off a 6-2 hammering by Philadelphia, taking on a Sporting KC side with just 5 points from it's first 9 games, all played away from home while their new home was being built. It was a terrible game, with a squirrel running half the length of the pitch and into the goal at half time the clear highlight.
Since then plenty has changed for the mighty Sporks. A good run last year when they finally got to play at home has continued into this year, and they currently sit atop the Eastern conference standings, with 13 wins and 43 points from 24 games.
As for TFC, tout change, mais rien ne change, as the French would say. A vastly different squad (only 3 players (Frei, Eckersley, Harden) from the 11 who started that game are still with the squad) and yet another new manager, but still right there at the bottom of the table, another league season over before it even got going. Whatever hope may have sprung from that 3 game winning streak is well and truly over with 2 defeats and a draw against the lowly Timbers.
Yes it's depressing to be firmly and exclusively back into the 'look for signs of promise for next year' box again, but in that regard, this could be an interesting one. Eric Hassli and Luis Silva are looking good up front, and tweets from training suggest that that budding partnership will be kept together, with Ryan Johnson moving back to a midfield spot to accomodate them.
In defence, after Geovanny Caicedo didn't make it out of pre season and Miguel Aceval was exposed as not the messiah, but rather a very naughty boy, and Logan Emory proved to be, well Logan Emory, this will be the first audition for the latest contestant through TFC's centre back revolving door, Darren O'Dea, who's back after keeping a clean sheet for Ireland against Serbia in midweek. Can he be the hero we've been dreaming of all these years? Let's hope so.
Let's hope so indeed, as despite the improvement and added team wide defensive focus under Paul Mariner, there's still been 21 goals conceded in 13 games, which is really not all that good. Richard Eckersley's been at Centre Back for most of those games, and I really haven't been convinced at all, but obviously Mariner is, as other tweets from training suggest Eckersley will be paired up with O'Dea. That's despite Adrian Cann, Dicoy Williams, Ty Harden and Doneil Henry all been available and proving their fitness recently. Mariner thinks Eckersley's better than all those options, better enough to be worth the trade off of Doneil Henry at Right Back.
Mariner keeps talking about Eckersley's speed, and that's certainly something he does have, Eckersley definitely makes some good last ditch tackles to avert potential danger when players have got past the defence, and hey, the Rapids won an MLS cup after making the same switch with Marvell Wynne. As well as Eckersley's strengths, he does have his faults though, and I'd say a lot of the mistakes that he's had to clean up with those impressive looking last minute tackles, or that have led to goals, have come from those faults, whether it's poor decision making due to inexperience in the position, or his tendency to abandon his man in order to drop back to get in position to block a shot, which will often end up coming from the man he was supposed to be marking.
I'm very very sceptical it will work, but maybe it will. Maybe the problem is simply that as well as being the speedy clean up guy, Eckersley's had to try and be the bossman, organising junior partners such as Logan Emory or Doneil Henry beside him. If O'Dea can take over that responsibility, and all reports suggest he's very happy to take on that organising role, then Eckersley won't have to worry about doing that himself. Not only will he not have to worry about helping others, he'll himself be getting direction to enable him to adapt to the still unfamiliar position. That can only help minimise his faults, and if he can do a good job of the basics, while also providing the speed to cover up for mistakes or for O'Dea's lack of speed, then this has the potential to be a very good partnership.
I'm almost convincing myself here. As i said I'm very sceptical, and i'd prefer him to be at Right Back, but we might as well see what happens.It's not like losing a few points here and there while an understanding builds up would be costly at this stage, this season's about finding hope for next year and the centre back problem remains the one big area to be fixed.
Anyway, back to the game preview, sorry about that wasn't expecting that to go as long as it did. So, O'Dea and Eckersley, more than likely with Henry and Morgan as the full backs. That'll be your defence.
In Midfield, Terry Dunfield will be back alongside Torsten Frings, and as I said earlier, it seems like Ryan Johnson will be in midfield as well to allow Silva to stay up front with Hassli. Unfortunately Reggie Lambe will definitely be out with the injury he picked up on Wednesday, reported as a minor tear that will keep him out a few weeks. That leaves one spot open, and it'll probably be filled by Andrew Wiedeman. Mariner doesn't seem to like Eric Avila and he really didn't do enough on Wednesday to change anyone's mind there, and you've really got to hope TFC at least won't start the game with 3 DM's by playing Aaron Maund as well as Frings and Dunfield, so Wiedeman it probably will be.
As for Kansas City, well the sad news there is that Jacob Peterson's missed the last few games with a seperated shoulder, so it looks like he'll be spared the horror of having to leave his beloved homeland again, but not to worry, Teal Bunbury's ready to take over the Captain America shield and be the villain for the day. They've struggled for goals so far this year, so hopefully it won't be yet another example of TFC curing what ails you, and we can keep that trend going.
If we can do that, then hopefully Hassli and Silva can repeat their magic from Wednesday and we could end up with a win. Sadly SKC's defence is a lot better than Portland's which was really quite generously awful for both goals on Wednesday so it won't be all that easy. I'll go with a narrow 1-0 loss, Frustrating but more entertaining than last year, and with signs of hope in there if you look hard enough.