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Toronto FC vs Houston Dynamo: Can TFC Take Advantage?

Time for the second instalment of our homestand - hopefully this one will be a bit sweeter than last weekend. Here come perennial playoff contenders the Houston Dynamo - can TFC take advantage of a team on a downslide?

Steven! Arms at your sides!
Steven! Arms at your sides!

Second verse, same as the first? Here's hoping the answer is a resounding no and that last week's goal allowing lapses have been eradicated.  Toronto have had a full week off to rest, regroup and spend some solid time training together.  Wonder if they've been working on that switched up formation we saw in the first half against DC that Ben Olsen admitted had them stymied or back to the old 4-4-2? We shall have to wait and see of course but while I'm hoping for the former, I'm betting on the latter.

July hasn't exactly been a banner month as of yet for Toronto FC but with five more games still to play (yes, five!) there's plenty of points to be had and the game against the Houston Dynamo at BMO could be (should be!) the start of that.  The Dynamo are usually one of MLS's most consistent teams; perennial playoff contenders, quietly putting together solid seasons - until this year.

Yes the MLS season can turn on a dime, but the Dynamo seem to be faltering this season.  Most notable in their record is not just the lack of points or table position - no, it's the number of goals they've allowed so far this season - a league leading 34 to only 18 scored.  That is a scary number if you're a Dynamo fan; hell that's a TFC-esque number and one that Toronto needs to keep firmly in mind.  Even scarier - or even better if you're a TFC fan - is that they've only scored five goals on the road while letting in twenty.  Jermain Defoe should be practising his goal celebration in anticipation of the Dynamo's less than rock solid defence.

Not that TFC should take the Dynamo's poor form for granted - they've been in the playoffs every year of their short existence as the Dynamo (it's a long complicated San Jose Earthquakes thing) with the exception of 2010.  They're also perennial contenders for the CCL so they and Dominic Kinnear are never to be taken lightly.

Reasons to be concerned - now that the World Cup is over for most countries the MLS players are back with their clubs which means Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia have returned, as well as Ricardo Clark but from injury. These three immediately help to shore up the midfield for Houston which will be important as they've a young and inexperienced backline that seems to be missing Bobby Boswell (now with DC United) and his veteran presence.

Other reasons to be concerned -Toronto hasn't managed to beat Houston for three years with last year's matches both being draws (one a heartbreaker in injury time of course).  And as much at TFC have exorcised some of the 'teams we never beat' demons  this season, they're not all gone and as always our Reds are a simple mistake away from losing any given game.  And as we know Brad Davis is the type to capitalize on any and all mistakes, plus TFC + set pieces (Davis has been known to be kind of OK on those) generally equals disaster.

Reasons to be hopeful: See above.  No seriously; while it's great for Kinnear to have all of these players back his first choice team has not played together for weeks and unfamiliarity hinders any team, not to mention one that's shaky and has to play a road game.  But that's not it - as mentioned our Reds have had time to rest and train together for more than a day.  We've started to see dividends from the Collen Warner trade and there's some hope that Luke Moore and Dominic Oduro will be able to contribute and that this team might finally have some depth with a bit of quality.

From reports out of training it would seem that Gilberto is fit and ready to go which is good news.  Other than the defensive gaffes from last week's game it was clear that having Ol Gil to sub on with his energy and speed would have caused some havoc.  And then there is the need to prove that his stunning free kick in the game against the New York Red Bulls wasn't a fluke but indeed the sign of a striker finding his form.

Out for TFC will be Nick Hagglund due to the (foolish) red card he received last week which means that Doneil Henry gets an opportunity to earn back his spot next to Steven Caldwell (hopefully he too is fully healed). And it looks like Michael Bradley will also be rested as it was apparently a knock and not just fatigue that had him off his game last weekend.  And I reiterate my thought that he shouldn't have played at all and that his sudden inclusion confused instead of helped the Reds.

But that is in the past and Toronto has got to start making use of not only this home stand, but all of these lovely games in hand.  They've got four against the Dynamo and play them twice in the next week - two points from both games will quite honestly be considered a failure in many (mine included) eyes.  As has been said by many so far this season; good teams find ways to win.  Toronto has been finding ways to not lose - which is important - but it will only take you so far.  TFC have 5 games left this month, and play steadily throughout the rest of the season - they have to start taking advantage of the schedule and put in some consistent and convincing performances by the end of this month.  Those games in hand will only be there to take advantage of for so long.

This (and yes, I've said this many times this season) is a very winnable game for TFC; if they play smart, start aggressive and don't just rely on the counter attack.  Caldwell and Henry will need to mark Brad Davis very closely and Will Bruin could turn it on at any moment, but as long as the back stays calm and aware during any Dynamo attack (or set piece) this should turn out well. Come on you Reds - get this done.