Bmo Field 7pm E.D.T
Today, this happened. My hometown team from back in England, Darlington won the FA trophy with a goal in the last minute of extra time (Love the completely unimpartial commentary) by Chris Senior. Disappointingly the BBC have edited out the f-bomb from Manager Mark Cooper's post game pitchside interview.
This makes me very very very happy, but also very distracted for the last couple of days, and despite waking up hungover this morning, I'm now well on the way to getting drunk again.
What all that means is that rather than a seperate preview and game thread as you'd usually get here, I'm throwing it all together into one post, and even that is going to be pretty sloppy.
The injury Alan Gordon picked up against Edmonton was a recurrence of his previous groin strain, and serious enough to keep him out of today's game, and hopefully not too many games in the future. That's the big news that will affect TFC's lineup and preparations.
What can we expect from Houston? Well they play a solid 4-4-2 formation and they've been a high scoring team so far with an MLS leading 12 goals. Rookie Will Bruin and Cam Weaver have played well up front, and they also have Spanish striker Sergio Koke to integrate into the line up. They also have MLS player of the month for April Brad Davis, who leads the league in assists and chances created, and talented midfielder Geoff Cameron will likely be back from injury as well.
So at both ends of the pitch, Toronto are in trouble. Houston haven't won a game at BMO Field yet, with one loss and draws in each of the last three seasons, last year they came within 6 minutes of a win before Dan Gargan equalised, but this could be the year they finally get that win.
What will Winter do to replace Gordon is the big question. The obvious first change is to push Maicon Santos into the Centre Forward position. Gordon's postional play and distribution were very important for TFC so that's something that Santos will have to continue, the goal he created for Dwayne De Rosario in Vancouver suggests it's certainly something he can do. Hopefully he'll be more comfortable and effective there than he has been as an Attacking Midfielder and can finally get his season going.
That move would obviously open up the number 10 position, and I'd put Alen Stevanovic there to see what he can do, which in turn opens up the Left Wing position. I'd like to see Aron Winter be bold and give Joao Plata his first MLS start, he had a great couple of games against Edmonton, and I'd love to see what he could do. The other alternative, and the one that I think is probably more likely is that Jacob Peterson is pushed up to the Right Wing spot with Javier Martina moved over to the left, very similar to what we saw against Columbus a couple of weeks back. I'd prefer to see Peterson dropped, after a good first few games he hasn't really done much recently and his free kicks and corners haven't been impressive either for a few games now.
Julian De Guzman and Tony Tchani should be good to go after both leaving the game against Edmonton with what seemed like minor injuries. In defence, I'd keep Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams together and more than likely Danleigh Borman will somehow keep his place at Left Back. At Right Back, Richard Eckersley has hopefully proven his fitness enough to get the start ahead of Dan Gargan.
I do feel bad for Dan Gargan, he's had a rough year and seems to be struggling to adapt to how Winter wants him to play, and I'd like to see someone better in the starting lineup, but he certainly doesn't deserve some of the harsh criticism he's been getting on forums and messageboards. His popularity last year wasn't proportional to his talent, but neither is his unpopularity this year, he's a good MLS level reserve, a depth player who can cover a few different positions. His place in the starting liineup is a sad indictment of our overall squad quality, but calls for him to be released from the squad entirely are way over the top.
Anyway, I think Eckersley will finally get his first start this week, and this would be my guess for the team.
As for a prediction, I think we'll play well, and get a very good result, sadly a home draw qualifies as a very good result at this stage and that's what I'll go for, 1-1.
My Are you smarter than Mo Johnston? prediction league is still going, so post any predictions there, and join me here for updates from the game. I'll be at BMO on my blackberry, so will have the lineup's posted before the game, as well as half time and full time thoughts. As always feel free to comment in the mean time.
Come on you Reds!