Welcome to the start of what's should be a season defining stretch of games for Toronto FC. They've got seven league games, six against conference rivals, up to five games in hand over more than one of those teams and four of those games at home. While there is still almost two thirds of the season left for our Reds, this month is a huge opportunity for them to get points and move up the table in a decisive manner.
Up first is an away match to the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park. A place that TFC has never won a game. Yep that's right - in seven visits they've only managed three draws and zero wins; oh and only five goals. Good times. However the Fire haven't had the easiest of seasons and are on a four game winless streak right now. Although during the World Cup break they won two games in the fifth round of USOC to make it to the quarter-finals next week. So we're up against a team that's (hopefully) tired from playing lots of games - and a team that is also on a bit of high from doing the same thing. Joyous!
Games against the Fire are usually good matches - for some reason the two teams just get up for one another - many of the best times I've had at games and watching games have involved the Fire. And they've been kind of fun to watch this year with all the penalties and scoring a fair number of goals.
And who's scoring the goals? Well it's a bit of a surprise as former Red Quincy Amarikwa has been somehow been lighting it up and is tied with another surprising scorer, rookie Harrison Shipp, with 5 goals apiece. What of Magic Mike Magee you say? Well last year's MLS MVP and almost (missed it by a goal) winner of the Golden Boot, has had some injury concerns and is in fact still a question mark for the match against Toronto. But knowing our luck he'll be more than fit and out there terrorizing the defence.
Speaking of fit - Ryan Nelsen has his own injury concerns to contend with as Gilberto aggravated his hip flexor injury scoring his wonder goal on Friday night. Now given there's two games this week it's not a complete tragedy that Ol' Gil can't play, but given he only just started scoring you want him to have get right back at it as soon as possible. It's unknown if he'll be available for selection for either game this week but fingers crossed the fans get to give him a welcome this weekend. And now back to Wednesday!
Other than the loss of Gilberto (and Dan Lovitz still coming back from a concussion), there's nothing stopping Nelsen from fielding a pretty strong lineup - but will he want to or even have to? With the game on Saturday at home against what has so far been a very strong DC United team coming up, you have to think he'll do a bit of rotating. If only at the back to keep fresh legs available for Saturday. I'd expect to see Nick Hagglund out there and perhaps even Bradley Orr - give Steven Caldwell and Doneil Henry a rest.
Otherwise the lineup should be exactly the same - there were some nice things on the pitch on Friday night and a decent game plan in place. Dominic Oduro didn't look out of place and Collen Warner did a very good job running things in the middle. Jermain Defoe was dangerous for the entire 90 minutes and the backline was mostly solid. Yes there were some issues on the goals - but Tim Cahill is hard to beat - and Joe Bendik didn't have his best night, nor did Luke Moore. However that XI was good enough to almost steal all three points from New York so perhaps we shouldn't quibble too much.
The main thing about Friday's game and what Nelsen and the Reds should take into the game in Chicago is go for it right from the starting whistle. Because they looked good; hell they looked interesting, competitive and fun to watch for large parts of that game. And those were the parts where they didn't solely rely on the counter-attack, where they instead worked patiently, yet aggressively. If you look at the season as a whole that was one of their more complete games and speaks to what we can hopefully expect going forward into the season.
I won't go out on a limb and say categorically that Toronto will win on Wednesday night; only that I've a higher expectation of three points from this game than I did last week. A positive result is absolutely a must in this game though; if they don't at least get a point I'll be very surprised - Canada Day hangover or no - this has to be the start of something for Toronto. Seven games, six against the conference, four at home - time to make a statement boys - it had better be a positive one.