Everyone excited? Pumped up about watching our Reds play another game? I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little jaded already - usually it takes months to get to this point in a TFC season. I've been preaching patience and understanding that this is a very long work in progress but still...even with all of that firmly fixed in my head, watching the Reds throw away points game after game, is just a wee bit wearing.
Tonight they take on San Jose; or as I like to call them TFC West - as they boast five former Reds; a minimum of three that start regularly. It's an odd fixture in that Toronto fans may be hard pressed who to cheer for. Side note: I'm delighted to see Nana Attakora back in MLS and doing so well - but I'm hoping like hell that he has an off night. Reds fans can be forgiven for exclaiming a lot during any game against San Jose as joining Attakora in the former TFC club are Dan Gargan, Alan Gordon, Ty Harden and of course Sam Cronin. Just remember the team in red is the one we cheer for and you'll be OK.
One former Red that Toronto will not have to face tonight is Alan Gordon, as he's finishing off his three game suspension for homophobic language in a game against the Portland Timbers last month. Also suspended for this match is perennial pain Steven Lenhart - who is always a thorn in Toronto's side. The dangerous duo combined for over 20 goals last season (although they've yet to score this season you know they'd both have broken out against Toronto), so TFC fans and players alike can breath a small sigh of relief that neither will be taking to the pitch tonight.
Of course that doesn't mean that Toronto should breath easy - this is TFC after all - while San Jose haven't been showing nearly the form that saw them take the supporters shield last season, they are still a force to be reckoned with. Most notably in that while TFC excels at late game goal concessions, the Earthquakes are equally gifted at scoring late in the game - most recently coming back from a two goal deficit against Montreal this past weekend to earn a draw. The teams are polar opposites when it comes to the last 10-15 minutes of games and not in a good way.
Even more worrisome is San Jose's ability to get corner kicks, having taken twice the number that TFC have so far this season. And as we all know set pieces are not Toronto's strong point. Add to that Toronto's recent defensive woes both in form and lack of depth due to injury and they could be in for a long night.
However, Toronto has oddly enough done well at Buck Shaw coming away with two draws and a win the last few times they visited the Earthquakes. And as noted, San Jose are not exactly league leaders right now, having not won in their last five games and drawing their last four. And while they take a lot of shots - especially compared to Toronto - they've scored the exact same number of goals and conceded the same. There is certainly an opportunity here for not only some much needed points but a confidence boost going into a 10 day layoff.
There are three things that stand out going into tonight's game:
1. Will Robert Earnshaw be able to break out of his slump and score? Earnshaw seems to be a bit snakebit of late as clear chances - and a couple of gift chances - that he'd have buried early on in the season have gone awry for the tireless forward. Right now as Earnshaw goes, so does TFC. He'll need to take advantage of any early opportunities if the Reds hope to head home with a point (or three) to their name.
2. Defensive miscues: We've all watched the games and we've all got the highlight (lowlight?) reel of individual sins that have led to so many dropped points in the past month - most recently of course was Logan Emory's baffling play in the 86th minute against Colorado that negated some excellent play by Toronto and of course saw them lose the game, drop points, disappoint us all - just the usual TFC deja vu. Darren O'Dea and Gale Agbossoumonde will need to be rock solid in the middle regardless of who (likely Richter and Emory) join them at the back. Communication - talk to one another boys! - will be key so that Joe Bendik doesn't need to stand on his head again.
3. Matias Laba and the midfield: While it's unfair to suggest that Laba can help fix some of Toronto's midfield woes in only his second game it is worthwhile to note that he and Jeremy Hall looked to be forming a nice partnership out there during the Rapids match. More stability at the back is a key to Toronto taking points as they need play to build from the back and to keep the ball on the ground. However as has been noted (again and again and again), until the play on the wing - please can we have some wide players - and service into the box is sorted the team won't progress. And unless the likes of John Bostock, Hogan Ephraim and Reggie Lambe suddenly have stellar games this won't be happening any time soon.
Expect coach Ryan Nelsen to field his strongest - such as that is - starting XI tonight, as Toronto have a break coming up and don't play again until their next home match against Columbus on the 18th. A strong performance and perhaps even some points (I can dream!) will do wonders for a Toronto team that has failed again and again to put together a complete game this season. And then 10 days off to practice, practice and hey more practice, as well as hope that some of the walking wounded heal. Will tonight be that mental turning point for TFC? While I'm not exactly holding my breath, stranger things have happened. Prove us wrong boys; please.