Well, we're now almost two weeks into Paul Mariner's reign and this is shaping up to be the best, most TFC version of TFC ever. After the infuriating/depressing press conference, we've had a horrific defensive effort, a delightfully comic appraisal of the game in Kansas City as 'sensational', and a mass late night nightclub arrest. Incompetence on the pitch, laughable 'everything's ok' denial in interviews and off the pitch controversy, I'd have expected it to take months to pull that trifecta off, well done Paul, well done, a sensational performance.
There's no time to rest on his laurels though as our brave boys in red get a chance to redeem themselves on the pitch, this Wednesday they go to Houston for their first ever visit to BBVA Compass stadium. When I say 'our brave boys in red' I sadly don't mean the tfc 3, as Mariner confirmed the players won't be with the club and have been sent home, that link is from New Zealand, yay for international coverage. Asif Hossain tweeted confirmation that Adrian Cann won't be on the bench either, though there's still no official word of his long term status, so apparently we'll have 4 subs, including goalie Quillan Roberts. Awesome.
It's plausible that adversity will be the inspiration needed, and that TFC will come away with an unlikely result, simultaneously sticking it to their critics and 'winning one for Luis'. Silva that is, whose Father reportedly died on Saturday prior to the game in Kansas City.
It's probably a lot more plausible that Houston will see a vulnerable team and want to step on their throats in pursuit of the 3 points, and we could see a start similar to that we saw on Saturday where SKC ran rampant early to claim the lead, then coasted home. I know which of those circumstances my money would be on. But, you know, it's sports, anything can happen, hope springs eternal etc etc, so I'll take a look at what we might be able to get out of that threadbare squad and how it will affect the game after the jump.
Looking at Saturday's squad will give us the best clue as to who'll be starting as there really aren't many options at all now. Milos Kocic will be in goal, that's a certainty, and with Cann out, I think we'll see the same back 4 that ended the game, Jeremy Hall at Right Back with Ashtone Morgan getting his Left Back spot back by default. The Centre Backs will be Richard Eckersley and Doneil Henry, and hands up, those of you who saw that emergency pairing last season thought it would ever make a return? Sigh, me neither.
In midfield, despite Mariner's insistence that his selection would be based on players performance and not the names on the back of the shirts, and the fact that Torsten Frings had a noticeably unnoticeable game on Saturday, he'll be there in midfield, probably with Julian de Guzman in place of Terry Dunfield. With Silva out, Eric Avila, despite picking up a black eye, (courtesy of Doneil Henry in the KC game, not any kind of 'brawl') should keep his place on the left and Soolsma's absence will allow Reggie Lambe to keep his place on the right.
Up front, well, if we're going to keep going with a formation ending in 2, that means the ever more tired and beaten up (physically, from playing every minute of every game so far, not from any kind of 'brawl') looking Ryan Johnson will just keep getting wheeled out there, and that'll be alongside Danny Koevermans of course, who'll hopefully be a bit more clinical with any chances that come his way than he was on Saturday.
For the bench, that will leave Terry Dunfield, Joao Plata and Quillan Roberts from the 18 who suited up in Kansas City, and to reach the 3 + Roberts that Asif tweeted about, I guess we add in Dicoy Williams, or whoever else made the trip with the team, Ty Harden perhaps?
There's very little room for error and plan B in that is there? I'm going to lazily assume it'll be bloody hot down in Houston and that will bring fatigue into play, which a short bench really won't help. I'd add 'play a patient game, wait for TFC to tire themselves out, then eventually take advantage in the second half' to that whole 'run rampant early against a vulnerable team' tactic I mused about earlier as a way for Houston to win.
As for some positivity, well Calen Carr will be out with an injury, and there's a good chance old man Ching will be rested ahead of his return to Montreal. It's a weak straw to grab at though as that does still leave them with Will Bruin and Macoumba Kandji, which sounds like probably more than enough to give TFC's defence some problems. Hopefully Paul Mariner managed to teach them all something about defending set pieces that they didn't get in his first week in charge, as I'm sure Bruin and Kandji, as well as Andre Hainault, will be looking to pad their stats on the end of Brad Davis' usual excellent deliveries. So much for looking for positives.
I find it hard to see how TFC can win this one without some unlikely seeming drastic improvements at both ends of the pitch, as playing a good team that still has that new home smell about them would be a tough game for even the most competent of MLS teams. If there's any time where those improvements could come though, it's in the early stages of a new regime. The defence looked like a unit that was trying to remember what it had been taught in training, rather than by playing by habit and instinct and being able to adapt to the game situation, and that is the sort of thing that will come with practice and game time. Hopefully it will come quickly, and there's at least some signs of progress in this game to give something to look forward to when they return home. That, and no further injuries or run-ins with the law, is about as much as I can hope for right now.