Fergie time Giveth and Fergie time taketh away. That was the story of Toronto FC's 2 game mini home stand, a cruel last minute equaliser, and a deliciously satisfying last minute equaliser. 4 points dropped, sure, but still unbeaten at home and given the modest expectations coming in, 5 points from 5 games isn't that bad given the quality of the opposition. The tough schedule finally eases a little this week, with Philadelphia probably the weakest of the teams the Reds have faced so far. Away games are never easy though so it would still be a brave man who'd bet on TFC even maintaining that point per game pace.
Let's face it, as enjoyable as that comeback was last week, it was very much putting lipstick on the proverbial pig. The goals came from yet another defensive miscue - 3 out of 7 goals gifted to TFC, that surely can't last - and a trememdous shot out of nowhere that Darel Russell would probably have to try 100 times before he could do again. That is to say, neither of them were really from the sort of slick attacking play that would give you confidence they can do it again in future games. Hogan Ephraim, John Bostock and Reggie Lambe were once again very ineffective at creating chances for themselves or Robert Earnshaw. It wasn't until the introduction of Justin Braun, adding an extra body up front, and a big target enabling a more direct game at that, that TFC started looking dangerous.
In defence, well, despite all that talk of building a foundation from Ryan Nelsen and the plaudits received from pundits for the increased organisation and the good play of Joe Bendik, the goals against tally currently stands at 8 in 5 games, or 1.6 goals a game, a 54 goal pace for the season and only a slight improvement upon Paul Mariner's record of 41 from 24 league games last year, or 1.7 goals per game.
All in all, still plenty of room for improvement then, and with the reinforcements from Argentina not scheduled to arrive for a few weeks, it's from within the squad that help will have to arrive. In defence there's good news and bad news there. Danny Califf is available again, and I'd imagine he'd be very much looking forward to playing his first game back in Philadelphia since his transfer to Chivas USA last year. Gale Agbossoumonde didn't do badly at all in his place against FC Dallas, but surely Califf will be returned to his partnership with Darren O'Dea in the middle.
That seems all well and good, genuine competition and a couple of decent options, but then we switch to the full backs. Fantastic goal aside, Darel Russell still really doesn't inspire that much confidence with his displays at right back, and things are equally up in the air on the left. Richard Eckersley picked up an injury at the end of last week's game. I thought it was from an awkward looking tackle/stretch in the move that led to Russell's goal, but apparently not, it was instead his celebrating of the goal that caused it. That's unfortunate as Eckersley was looking much improved this year, and didn't really look out of place on the left hand side.
So, what will the mean for the full back spots, does Russell get another chance, does Ashtone Morgan get his spot back on the left, or does Ryan Richter get a chance to show what he can do. I'll take a guess and go with Russell and Morgan, hopefully a spell on the sidelines will refocus and reinvigorate the Canadian.
In midfield, Terry Dunfield's still out injured and Jonathan Osorio didn't exactly cover himself in glory against Dallas either. Though Nelsen's talked of maintaining the foundation that has had 2 DM's very much at the centre of it, might a lack of options force his hand into something a little more attacking in midfield? Jeremy Hall will be there again, but might Luis Silva get his first start after a couple of sub appearances? In training Hogan Ephraim was apparently moved out to the left wing, where he can hopefully be more involved that he has been in recent weeks.
The biggest change might well be the introduction of justin Braun to the attack alongside Robert Earnshaw. It worked well last week as he provided the big body that allowed for a more direct game to flourish, and while desperation led to a lot of TFC's pressure and momentum last in the game, it would be good to have that as an extra option. Ephraim, Lambe and Bostock weren't really managing to create much over the last few weeks and when that led to long balls for Robert Earnshaw to chase all by himself up front, there was rarely much possession to be gained from that. A second forward can only help with that, and should help tilt the balance towards the attack, where TFC have looked very weak so far. Whether Nelsen will be comfortable abandoning the more defensive formation remains to be seen, especially if Eckersley is out.
As for Philadelphia, well they're doing a bit better than TFC so far, though with a weaker schedule, they've got wins against New England and Colorado so far, and are probably looking at TFC as another team they really should be getting the 3 points from. There's plenty of options up front, with Conor Casey a new acquisition through the waiver draft and Sebastian Le Toux brought back to the club where he had the most success in years past. As well as those two up front, there's also Jack McInerney who's off to a nice start with 3 goals already this season.
Casey's provided TFC with all sorts of problems over the years so I'd be fine with missing him, though the thought of him and Califf having a physical battle does make the the old fashioned football fan in me drool a bit.
Whoever TFC put out and whoever they face, it's going to be another tough game. TFC have never won at Philadelphia, just one tie to show for 3 visits against their slightly more successful, through sometimes equally dysfunctional expansion cousins. Given the injuries, I can't help but feel that this will be another game without points, but hopefully with some positives to point towards.
One of those positives might well be the new possibilities presented by a partnership between Braun and Earnshaw. The attack hasn't got going so far with the the 4-5-1 formation, will tomorrow be when we get to see how the 4-4-2 can look under Nelsen?