Six points in six games - not too shabby right? There's arguments to be made that Toronto is punching above it's weight so far this season but a point a game is certainly not setting the league on fire. As TFC's front loaded home schedule continues, the Reds put their very modest unbeaten streak up against the heavy hitters of home stands, the Houston Dynamo. The Dynamo are currently owners of a MLS record 35 game home unbeaten streak. 35 games - sounds daunting, right?
Toronto have a very busy week ahead with two MLS games against the Dynamo and the Red Bulls, as well as the first leg of their home and home against the Impact on Wednesday in Voyageurs Cup play. Adding to what is sure to be a difficult week are mounting injuries, a suspension and no new signings in recent weeks and hey there goes everyone's collective optimism.
The injury concern is, on the surface the biggest issue as defenders are dropping like flies - the biggest part of TFC's rebuild has meant a defense first team and building from the back. With Richard Eckersley, Darel Russell, and yes Terry Dunfield all out with knocks and Ashtone Morgan suspended, it's meant a change in the backline almost every single game. Familiarity on defense is a necessity for sustained team success so we have to hope that the likely back four of Ryan Richter, Darren O'Dea, Gale Agbossoumonde and Doneil Henry have been practicing non-stop all week.
The defense has to be rock solid playing against a team like the Dynamo. Houston has almost the exact same team that made it to the MLS final last year against the Galaxy and their cohesiveness has been apparent in every game so far this year as they continue to be unbeatable at home. As always, one of the Dynamo's best weapons are their deadly set pieces. What has been TFC's kryptonite for pretty much their entire existence? Set pieces. With the dangerous duo of striker Will Bruin and Dynamo captain Brad Davis and his accuracy on crosses orchestrating the majority of the dead ball situations (see James' Know Your Enemy), O'Dea and company will have to do far better than they did in the final moments against Philadelphia last week.
However the bright side - and there is one - is Houston's road form so far this season. They have been unable to secure a single point on the road (sound familiar) and are exploitable at the back. While a sound team from front to back they are given to not reacting quickly enough at the back and that is something that Robert Earnshaw has been using to his advantage all season. The flip side of that of course is that teams will be paying much closer attention to Earnshaw and his clinical, poaching ways - the addition of Justin Braun may help draw away some of the attention if the two can form a solid partnership going forward.
As always however it is the midfield that will need to step up its game this weekend. With only Jeremy Hall available as a defensive mid for the foreseeable future (Hondurans, Argentinians, Bueller?), the rest of the midfield will have to defend much better but also look for the open man and pass intelligently; again something that was missing in the Philadelphia game.
As we've mentioned time and again, Hogan Ephraim and John Bostock have a great deal of potential, both have yet to put in a complete effort with Bostock being especially streaky. Luis Silva has also yet to find the form he showcased early on last season and will need to start utilizing his creativity if the Reds are to capitalize on this run of home games and make some sort of progress, no matter how small.
One final note for this game - there is a reasonable expectation that Toronto can walk away with at least a point in this game. They've been playing up to their opponents and showing better against strong teams at home. The resiliency that Ryan Nelsen has been working to instill in the team has been paying dividends, but they will need to communicate and play possibly their smartest game yet in what is likely to be their toughest test so far this season.