Under normal circumstances, playing Chivas USA would be seen as a perfect opportunity to grab some points. After all they're TFC's true rivals in the world of MLS dysfunction and have been a somewhat welcome distraction for Reds fans that have suffered being the butt of almost every joke around MLS for the past season or more - ooh, a team that's more messed up than ours? Sweet! But being dysfunctional does not change the fact that Toronto are at a low point - yes they keep finding new low points - on this season.
With both the team and the fans still reeling from recent player departures and anxiously awaiting their replacements, the Reds were certainly not fully focussed or even remotely at their best on Saturday. The big question is can they bounce back and put in a solid showing against Chivas?
Chivas isn't just Toronto's twin in dysfunction; oh no, they're almost as bad (if not worse) than TFC, languishing at the bottom of the Western Conference and bleeding goals at an even worse rate than Toronto having already gifted the opposition with a league leading 35 goals. However this is not the cause for celebration that you might think - a large number (24) of those goals came in the first three months of the season when Chivas reeled from loss to loss in ways even TFC couldn't even aspire to.
But now? Well, they're still not exactly winning their way up the table but they have for the most part clamped down on their defensive woes and have looked almost respectable with three straight draws before their recent loss to Philadelphia. And what better gift than a game against TFC! Seriously, if the narrative for this season runs true to form our Reds will get destroyed by the Goats and leading the charge will be Eric Avila.
Yes, this is yet another game that features an ex-Red likely hell bent on showing that they should never have been cast aside. After a bizarre 2012 with TFC that saw Avi fall further down the depth chart, especially once Paul Mariner (who clearly had issues with him) took over behind the bench. Avila was exposed the MLS Re-Entry Draft and picked up by the Colorado Rapids who then traded him to Chivas for (yet another) former Red, Nick LaBrocca.
Even with the up and down nature of his year Avi was seemingly one of the pieces that Toronto had long missed; a creative attacking midfielder - not that we need one of those or anything - who most saw as possessing an upside going into the future. Clearly I'm a bit biased towards Avi (see our thoughts in last year's Top 31) and while I don't think his loss will rank up there as the worst in TFC history, I can't help but look at our team and think how well he'd fit in...ah well. Did I mention he's got a couple of goals and assists too? OK, OK, I'll stop - but you just know that he's going to score against us - mark it down cause it's going to happen.
Enough of the Avi lovefest,there are other Chivas players that should cause concern and potentially no one is more concerning than recent acquisition (and would be Red), defender Carlos Bocanegra. The U.S. international who's long rumoured return to MLS could have seen him suit up for Toronto but a trade for allocation and an international slot saw the CB head to Chivas instead. While the Goats have done some work to stem the tide of goals having the experience of Bocanegra at the back organizing the backline will be a key piece in their rebuild. And for a team that hasn't won a league match since March any and all help will be needed.
So what does this mean for the potential fortunes of TFC tonight? It's hard to say really - Toronto have not exactly been the 'bounce back from a devastating loss' kind of team this season. Although they've managed to not suffer back to back losses since May, they're also adjusting to the recent (and ongoing) roster upheaval. However after playing as horribly as they did on Saturday the team will be looking for redemption - every team loses, but to be taken apart by SKC like that cannot sit well with the Reds.
A bright note is the return of the Canadian contingent back from a woeful Gold Cup; specifically the return of Jonathan Osorio and to a lesser extent, Doneil Henry. Both players have been regular starters but it is the lack of Osorio's presence in the midfield that has been felt the most. While Toronto seeks to cut back on it's long ball ways, having a solid link between the defense and Matias Laba up to the forwards continues to be an issue and Osorio has proven to be a spark in most games with his energy and playmaking abilities.
Other than the ongoing 'can Robert Earnshaw and Jeremy Brockie find the back of the net' conundrum, the big question is what will the back four look like? With Darren O'Dea off to Ukraine (to which club is still unknown) and Ryan Richter clearly exposed as the weak link that he is on the right, who does Ryan Nelsen put at the back?
I think it's time for one of the new kids to get a chance and who better than actual LB, Mark Bloom? Because as willing to play wherever he's needed, Richard Eckersley is at his best at RB, and wouldn't you rather see him on the right where he belongs? I'd be fairly content to see Ecks, Caldwell, Boss (or Doneil) and Bloom at the back in front of Joe Bendik.
One of the few bright spots from Saturday was that (very) brief flash of a nice partnership forming between Brockie, Earnshaw and Bobby Convey - if the trio can build off of that and with the added presence of Osorio on the pitch causing trouble, well then there is the potential for goals. Of course that's assuming that they can finish their chances; Chivas haven't won at home (or anywhere) since March, so Toronto cannot (as they so often do) let those chances go begging.
With the Reds back at home this Saturday to the Red Bulls, a hard fought draw (note I won't say a win) would do wonders for team confidence and momentum coming into a game that could solidify a truly depressing record - no wins in MLS at Bmo Field in over a year. Expect Toronto to come out flying tonight - whether or not they succeed is - like most of this season - anyone's guess. But I'd take a draw and be pretty happy, wouldn't you?