When Toronto FC hosts Columbus Crew on Saturday at BMO Field, ten days will have past since their late defeat – that most recent in a string of such disappointments - at San Jose last Wednesday.
Time passes quickly and in that short spell a new raft of recruits has arrived in Toronto, but whether their inclusion will be immediate – or sufficient to stop the rot – is unclear.
What is certain is that Toronto will be facing an old and familiar foe.
Sure, the manufactured rivalry never ascended to the level it aspired, but that said, there has been some emotion involved. Neither particularly enjoys losing to the other and the two teams, and their corresponding fan-bases, have some history.
The recent hiring of Crew Legend and fellow New Zealander, Duncan Oughton to Ryan Nelsen’s TFC coaching staff is sure to rankle with some of the yellow-clad support, though they will outwardly – and earnestly - wish him well, with only minor reservations.
Familiarity will play its role; a closer look at the foe is in order.
Big news emerged midweek that former club captain (Federico Higuain assumed the honour this season) and stalwart centre-back, Chad Marshall, will be unavailable for some time due to an injury – the Columbus Dispatch reports an injured right hamstring - suffered during their weekend match against Colorado.
Fortunately – for the Crew – his centre-back partner, Glauber, who was registered as having received his fifth yellow card of the season – and would subsequently be suspended for Saturday, was incorrectly identified – presumably by the score-keeper – with the booking having been show to Higuain.
The mistake was quickly rectified and he will be available sparing the blushes of a whole new centre-back pairing.
There are other injury concerns – combative defensive midfielders Danny O’Rourke and Austin Viana are both currently struggling with ankle and hamstring issues, respectively, as too is wide attacker Ben Speas (hamstring), but it is too early to determine whether they will be available.
Their projected lineup is as follows: Andy Gruenebaum in goal; from right to left - Josh Williams, Eric Gehrig, Glauber, and Tyson Wahl across the back-line; Tony Tchani and Matias Sanchez sitting in the midfield; Dominic Oduro, Federico Higuain, and Eddie Gaven through the midfield, with Jairo Arrieta up top.
A few preliminary caveats:
The speedy Oduro is carrying a slight ankle knock, but should be available come the weekend; if not he could be replaced by one of a handful of attacking youngsters. Justin Meram, Bernardo Anor, one of the Finlay-Finley axis (Ethan and Ryan, respectively), none of whom have seen many minutes this season with the starting eleven rather settled in coach Robert Warzycha’s mind.
Should O’Rourke be fit he will likely take the pitch, whether as a defensive mid providing steel alongside the more attack-minded Tchani or in the back-line over Gehrig.
It is perhaps more likely he would feature at centre-back with Sanchez’s strong performance against Colorado and the Crew’s need for the creativity provided by Tchani in that part of the field.
Another back-line option could see Wahl moved to the centre with Viana, who has featured at right-back this season, in his place – given he is fit to be included, of course.
Gehrig, the projected starter, performed admirably in place of the oft-injured Marshall last season, especially in Toronto early in the season, though he has yet to feature in 2013. His inclusion would require the least shuffling across the back-line given the current injuries.
Expect to see Ryan Finley and Konrad Warzycha, the coach’s son, enter as substitutes, as they have the last two matches – three in Warzycha’s case.
Columbus limps into Toronto on a two-match losing skid – both at home – and having won only one match in their last six.
This past weekend they were beat 0-2 by Colorado – on goals from Edson Buddle and Dillon Powers – despite a fairly rampant assault on the visitor’s goal.
The week prior they lost 0-1 to New York on a late Tim Cahill goal that undid another strong performance after Higuain had missed a penalty kick.
Goal-scoring has been an issue for the Crew – they were held goal-less in their last two matches (three of their last four) and have only twelve in ten matches this season – a problem that prompted Warzycha to field Oduro on the right-side of the midfield and Arrieta up top, after the Costa Rican striker spent a good portion of the early season on the bench, in hope of finding goals with more potential on the pitch.
In fact, Columbus has only scored more than one goal in three of their ten matches this season, including a pair of three-nil results - away to Chivas in the season opener and over a struggling DC in Columbus at the end of April – with goals from Oduro, Williams, and Higuain (from the spot).
Oduro is their leading scorer with four on the season – including a couple of beauties in recent weeks, against Montreal and Philadelphia from rocket shots at a very tight angles – while right-back, Williams is second with three.
Higuain, who so impressed upon joining midway through last season, has struggled a mere goal and pair of assists, with clubs focusing on shutting him down – he is due for a breakout.
All that said, the Crew find themselves in a decent position – sixth – in the Eastern Conference, not yet wholly cut loose from the leading pack, on twelve points, with games in hand.
Three wins, three draws, and four losses thus far is not a great start, but it’s better than the dregs of the East – Toronto included.
Worthy of note is their strong road form, taking points from three of five matches (two wins and a draw) while outscoring their hosts seven to five.
The second part of the series will be available later today, going through game film looking at the goals scored in their matches and highlighting some points of interest.