If there was ever a time for Toronto FC to take a game from one of the best in the league then tonight's game against Sporting Kansas City is that time. Our Reds are coming off a decent win at home against the Red Bulls, have a ticked off Jermain Defoe looking to prove a point and a very depleted SKC who've lost two in a row.
This is one of those games that TFC should win regardless of it's own injury/missing player woes. While the loss of Michael Bradley to the World Cup and Jonathan Osorio & Jackson to injury absolutely has an effect on the team, Kansas are facing similar if not worse woes. SKC are missing most of their defence - most notably their central defenders and a good portion of their midfield due to World Cup and injuries.
Of course the big standouts among the missing - and reasons why TFC should be able to win this - are Aurelien Collin, Graham Zusi and Matt Besler. Collin's absence as he comes back from a hamstring injury is a blessing for Toronto as the pesky defender is always a problem for Toronto, whether it be goals, questionable fouls or blatant elbows that somehow go unpunished, no one on TFC will be upset that he is not playing. And having influential midfielder Zusi out of the mix is nothing to sneeze at either. SKC are also missing Ike Opara, Uri Rosell and Lawrence Olum; not to mention 17 yr Erik Palmer-Brown being out on suspension due to a red card.
What this adds up to is a very exploitable situation for Toronto. SKC has been doing well defensively with only 10 goals allowed, however they've allowed 4 goals in the past two matches as they've been unable to adjust to the loss of their defensive core. With TFC still employing an aggressive attack led by Defoe, the 'get a goal early' plan should be in full effect. In fact Defoe should be salivating at the thought of a cobbled together defence for him to run around. As should the other members of TFC's attack and yes that includes Gilberto - come on Gil, get a goal already!
It's not a guaranteed walk in the park though as SKC still have lots of dangerous players and if Toronto are too busy throwing themselves forward - as well as playing with a potentially unfamiliar midfield - then the likes of Benny Feilhaber, Soony Saad and Dom Dwyer are more than capable of making TFC's life miserable. Did I mention that Dwyer has scored 8 goals so far this year? Joyous.
Of course as mentioned above Toronto is facing its own difficulties in the midfield and while Bradley Orr did well in stepping in last weekend, will he or newest Red Collen Warner be able to marshal the midfield in the unfriendly confines of Sporting Park? Without Bradley and Osorio expect one of the above and Kyle Bekker with Alvaro Rey and Dwayne DeRosario on the wings, because what else can Ryan Nelsen actually do right now?
There's a bit of a drop off once you move past the defence at the moment - even with loan shark call up Dan Lovitz ready and willing to play - it makes you wonder if Jeremy Hall is fit? Seriously, he was a warm body on the bench last week as he works back from injury - but is he even an option? Or will this game see the return of Andrew Wiedeman out wide? OK, no one really wants that and we'll need to hope that some combo of Orr, Bekker and Warner does the trick and that DeRo can go for longer than 45 minutes.
With the home leg of the Voyageurs Cup next Wednesday there is a small chance that Nelsen will look to sit some players, however I think that would be a mistake as they've an extra day of rest and potentially at least one player that could be available that isn't for tonight's match. This is a chance to start making use of the many games in hand that TFC have over the rest of the Eastern Conference, not to mention notch an important road win.
Because it is important to try to make up some ground now before the World Cup. The team can't just hang onto those games in hand as some extra gift for the future - yes they're nice to have (5 games over Philly? Woof), but they shouldn't be relied upon. If Toronto can get results from these next three games before the World Cup then they're right in the mix and still have those games in hand to help them post WC.
This should be a motivated TFC team tonight; a number of players put in great performances on the weekend - take a bow Mark Bloom, Joe Bendik, Nick Hagglund and yes, Orr - and will be looking to build on that. There's a very realistic chance for points on the road against a limping SKC and Defoe and Co. should be able to capitalize. Buckle up kids, this one has the potential for lots of goals and hopefully lots of points for our Reds.