After finishing their 3rd game against Houston since Paul Mariner took over last saturday, the delights of the unbalanced schedule once again take Toronto FC down to PED Park for the 3rd game against Sporting Kansas City. The other two didn't go that well at all, an alarmingly bad (or 'sensational' according to Mariner) 2-0 defeat in his first game in charge, and a 1-0 home defeat 2 weeks ago, thanks to Kei Kamara's late deflected free kick in what looks more and more likely to be the last action of Milos Kocic's TFC career.
Kamara followed up the injury of the late goal with the insult of some woefully uninformed commentary/telling it like it is (delete as appropriate according to your biases) of TFC's new regime, comparing us to a lower division Premiership team (Joke's on you Kei, the Permiership is only one division, then below that you've got the football league. Also, everyone knows that English lower league teams are awesome, so there!) with all the long balls and just kicking it out style.
It's good that he did that, as the only thing left for TFC fans to look forward to is to this year is to play spoiler, and that's so much more enjoyable if you're spoiling the fun of someone you don't like. Teal Bunbury's a legitimate hate figure, but his oh so unfortunate injury means he's done for the season. Jacob Peterson's more of a WWE style comic villain, a couple of remarks and a lot of blocking on twitter have led to a great running gag, but I bear him no real ill will. Either way, he's still out with a bum shoulder. Aurelien Collin pissed plenty of people off with his overly physical play with Eric Hassli a couple of weeks ago, how he avoided a red card, or a later second yellow, I'll never know. He's one of those players you hate when they play against you, but you'd love to have him on your team, so it doesn't really count, and he's also out, suspended after picking up too many yellows over the course of the season.
So Kamara it is then. Come on TFC, make his evening miserable.
Is there a way that can happen? The Reds haven't been at all close to competing with the sporks this year, the scoreline in both of those games flattered TFC, though at least the second game showed an ability to be defensively resilient and bend not break while being thoroughly pummelled. The main method for that pummelling was seen in the first half of both games, a relentless pressure on TFC's defenders, giving them no time on the ball and forcing them to just get it out of there, almost always giving up possession in the process enabling the next attack to be launched. If TFC can withstand that early pressure, then maybe they've got a chance of taking advantage of a shorthanded Sporting side to get an upset.
What kind of lineup will we see out there to try and do this, well if we can experiment with Freddy Hall in the only meaningful game we had left all year, then I imagine that'll continue in the remaining MLS games. Very harsh on Milos Kocic, but Hall's looked alright in his games so far, that first goal against Santos Laguna aside, so that shouldn't have too much of an effect.
In defence it'll also more than likely be more of the same. The only potential change I can see is Jeremy Hall, who hasn't been looking all that good at Right Back, maybe being demoted with Richard Eckersley returning to the flank. That depends on if there's a Centre Back that Mariner likes enough to partner with Darren o'Dea instead of Eckersley, but there probably isn't. Dicoy Williams seems to have failed his one game audition, maybe Logan Emory gets another chance?
In midfield, again I'd expect more of the same. Torsten Frings and Terry Dunfield will be in the defensive spots again for sure. Ryan Johnson will no doubt once again struggle along out on the left, but there might be a change on the right. Andrew Wiedeman has had some moments recently, against Columbus and against Santos Laguna where he's looked like he belongs, but just as he finds his feet, he may get supplanted by Reggie Lambe whose injury status is now upgraded to questionable and who'll probably be in the starting lineup when he's judged fit enough. For now though I'd predict Wiedeman will keep his place.
There's more injury related decisions up front as Eric Hassli now has bruised ribs, picked up in the game against Santos Laguna to go with his spasmy back so may have to give this one a miss and not get to take advantage of the absence of Aurelien Collin. Hopefully he can go, he and Luis Silva (who'll no doubt be up front again, as opposed to swapping positions with Johnson) have looked like a dangerous partnership when they can get the ball at their feet rather than launched at their heads. If Hassli isn't able to play, well, Silva and Quincy Amarikwa doesn't really seem all that threatening does it? On the other hand, if we are to see SKC really putting the pressure on high up the pitch, maybe Amarikwa's speed would be an effective counter attacking threat.
It's difficult to see exactly how Toronto can win this one, it's probably another game to try and find the positives, small improvements. The defence has looked better recently since the arrival of Darren O'Dea, hopefully that will continue, ideally with fewer of the lapses that keep popping up, and hopefully for the full 90 minutes this time, without the late game collapse we saw on Wednesday. On the attacking side of things, there's not been a lot to cling to recently, a couple of short dangerous spells against Columbus, and a good second half against Santos' young defence. Wiedeman was part of those dangerous spells, if he can become a more consistent threat, then that will lead to good things. Put it all together for a long enough portion of the game and maybe it'll lead to a result. Probably not, but results don't really matter at this stage do they?