Four games to make this season have meaning; to give it a purpose; to prove it wasn't all a waste. Just four games left for Toronto FC to act like the group of (relatively) highly paid professional footballers and put in some complete performances. This is especially important over the next two games as our Reds are facing teams that are also fighting for their playoff lives.
First up of course is (usually) perennial playoff team the Houston Dynamo. The Dynamo have made it to the playoffs - and generally progress quite far - every year since they joined the league in 2006 with the exception of 2010. That's history and consistency that makes me - I don't know about the rest of you - less than confident about winning tonight's game. Toronto does not have a history of showing up in games when it's all on the line; whereas Houston has years of practice at this. Joyous.
However there are actually a number of positives going into the game; no I'm serious, and positive! The Dynamo have only won once at BMO (and drawn four times) in all the times they've visited Toronto. Now while TFC have seemingly made it their goal this season to ensure that every team breaks some kind of personal record at BMO (winning, scoring goals, breaking droughts etc.), the Dynamo have already won here - should be fine. Especially if we ignore that they need to win in order to sustain any hope at all of making the playoffs. They have to win tonight; Houston that is - so umm, this could be a problem.
The next positive is that they are missing their two Honduran midfielders - Luis Garrido and Oscar Boniek Garcia - who are both away on international duty. That means that there's only Ricardo Clark and Brad Davis to worry about through the middle; that's positive - sort of.
A definite positive is that Will Bruin has been out with an ankle injury so Houston's biggest scoring threat won't be an issue - except of course that he's back in training and likely to play given the missing depth and attacking options...but hey, it'll be his first game in weeks, he'll be rusty and such. Really, it's going to be fine.
While I'm making it sound all doom and gloom this is still a Dynamo side that has been mired near the bottom of the standings for much of the latter part season and have only a passing resemblance to teams past. And they've also sorely been missing goalkeeper Tally Hall, who's out for the season after tearing his ACL several weeks ago. Not to mention that they've been terrible on the road this season - bleeding goals and not scoring many. See, positive!
Besides, all the stars should be aligning for Greg Vanney's team; for this game at least. All of his injured first team players are fit and available for tonight's match which gives him a far greater range of choice. Back in the fold are Mark Bloom - which will allow for the most consistent back line, and (soon to be departing?) striker Jermain Defoe, whose brief run-out on Saturday can hardly be counted as playing.
It is Defoe that is the biggest question for tonight's match - will he start (most likely), and who will he be paired with? Personally I'd like to see him out there with Gilberto (well rested after being sat for the LA match); this has been mentioned before but putting the two smartest forwards together to confound the opposition defense is a good thing. However, given TFC's dislike for keeping the ball on the ground, and that this is indeed a must win by all accounts, it will likely be Luke Moore out there with Defoe, and Gil coming on as a sub.
You can also expect Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio to stay paired together in the midfield. Both players have not been called up by their national teams (although Bradley may head off next week for the US' game on Tuesday), and even though Collen Warner is again fit to play, Vanney has stated that he'll stick with the pairing that showed some promise earlier in the season. The team will need Bradley at his best tonight to keep the tempo up but also keep the back locked down. Communication between him, the wings and Steven Caldwell will be paramount.
The other question of course is Dwayne De Rosario - he won't start, but after Gil he almost has to be the next sub off the bench, doesn't he? Given a propensity for scoring against his old clubs and given how much history he has with the Dynamo, he can be counted on to be highly motivated in this match.
Regardless of who plays where and when, this needs to be a TFC side with a lot more fight and interest in winning than the team we saw on the weekend. I'm not saying that they didn't try (for awhile), but that game was not one that they were trying to win. But these games have to be - they have to go all out for the next four games if playoffs are still their goal. Vanney was quoted yesterday after practice: "The room for error is determined by the results of the other teams, but we want to control our destiny," said Vanney. "We don't want it have it in the hands of anybody else. We're looking at these games as must win."
Tonight should be a hard fought affair; both teams are playing to stay alive and Houston has it all to lose. I expect a lot of goals in this game, not just because both teams will be going all out but just look at the previous contests this season, goals galore! So if goals are your thing than trekking out to stand in the chill (don't forget your mittens it's cold outside!) should make this worth your while. Oh and potentially seeing our Reds keep themselves in the playoff race. This has been an odd season (yes I know, they all are), but hopefully they won't finish like all the rest. With a whimper instead of a bang. Come On You Reds!