The marathon continues on Saturday when Toronto plays their third match in a week and fifth of the month of July, with a trip to Houston, to face the Dynamo once more.
Seeing as the two met just the previous weekend, there is not all that much to be said about Dominic Kinnear’s Houston, aside from the fact that given the 4-2 Toronto win, spurred by four unanswered goals after falling behind by two in the first half-hour, Houston will be primed to exact a measure of revenge – they have said so themselves.
It is rare that teams will meet each other in consecutive rounds, Toronto may have had a 1-1 draw against Vancouver in between games, but last Saturday will still be fresh in both minds; scores are there to be settled, wounds still fresh.
This peculiarity, of playing a team twice in short succession, will only occur three times on TFC’s schedule this year – not as infrequent as one would imagine.
The first came under special circumstance, when the two legs of the opening round of the Voyageurs Cup saw Toronto and Vancouver meet on consecutive Wednesdays, each winning at home, cancelling the other out, and requiring penalty kicks to determine a winner.
Houston would like nothing better than to reverse the result on this occasion.
And TFC will have another such home-and-away series at the start of September, compressed into four days, when they first travel to Philadelphia, then play the Union back home mere days later.
Such events, occasional though they may be, provide a unique opportunity to test one’s side. Rather than rush to scout and prepare for an opponent, they are already well-known; there will be no surprises, necessitating something special to break down a braced opponent.
That these challenges ring as a playoff series can only be a positive for a team that aspires to that sacred ground – a chance to prepare and sample well before it is actually required.
It has only been one week since the two last met, but still, a closer look at the Houston Dynamo is in order.
With the loss to TFC last Saturday, Houston’s winless run was extended to seven matches; their last win having come back on May 17 – they have lost six of those seven games.
On eighteen points from nineteen matches, they dropped down a position in the table, falling to ninth in the Eastern Conference with Chicago’s win on the weekend – only Montreal prevent them from resting firmly in the basement.
Houston, however, will take hope from returning home, where just two of those seven matches have taken place - the other five coming on the road, perhaps excusing some of that failure.
Their home form is actually pretty good, having collected fourteen points there with record of four wins, three losses, and a pair of draws – in fact, in their last five at home they have a respectably two wins, two losses, and a draw, including tough matches against the likes of Salt Lake, Los Angeles, and Sporting KC.
This will be an entirely different prospect.
July 12 – Toronto 4: Houston 2
Last Saturday Houston rolled out to a two-goal lead, capitalizing on some disordered Toronto defending to find Brad Davis unmarked, on both occasions, on the left-side of the pitch.
The first came in the thirteenth minute after Giles Barnes streaked up the right-channel, cutting in-field across the top of the box, drawing Mark Bloom towards him, before finding Davis in space for a left-footer that beat Joe Bendik to the short-side.
The second on the half-hour, again Barnes finding Davis, this time with a cross from the right that sailed over Will Bruin and two Toronto defenders to an unmarked Davis, whose left-footer squeezed through the legs of Bendik.
Nine minutes later Toronto would draw one back when Houston keeper, Tally Hall could not hold a Jermain Defoe cross from the right and Jonathan Osorio was on hand to pounce on the bobble, nodding in his first goal of the season.
Toronto would equalize in the sole minute of first half stoppage-time, unleashing a devastating counter that provided Dominic Oduro two chances to beat Hall, who denied the first, but could only watch as the second nestled into the bottom left-corner of the goal.
With TFC surging and the Dynamo reeling, the hosts took the lead in the 63rd minute, after Jackson freed Osorio down the right with a lovely back-heel. Osorio ran towards goal before playing in-field to Defoe, who rounded the outside left of the Houston back-line to finish past Hall.
And it was Defoe who capped off the night from a gift in the penultimate minute of regulation, intercepting an underhit and misplaced back-pass from Servando Carrasco and beating Hall after his initial attempt was slowed en route to goal.
It appears as though left-back Corey Ashe, who has missed their last few matches with a knee knock, is available again and looks set to return on Saturday.
Having just welcomed him back into the starting fold, Houston will be without the services of Jermaine Taylor, who is suspended for having picked up his fifth booking of the season last Saturday.
One in, one out.
Their projected lineup is as follows: Tally Hall in goal; from right to left – Kofi Sarkodie, David Horst, AJ Cochran, and Corey Ashe across the back-line; Andrew Driver, Oscar Boniek Garcia, Ricardo Clark, and Brad Davis through the midfield, with Giles Barnes and Will Bruin again paired up top.
Should Ashe not be ready in time, Warren Creavalle will likely resume his station at left-back, but Ashe’s experience would mean a lot to a struggling back-line, so if fit, he’ll be in.
Kinnear may opt to go with Eric Brunner alongside Horst in the centre of the defense; Cochran provides a little more speed, which may be useful given Toronto’s attacking threat, especially out wide.
Houston does have options in the middle of the park, they could field either Creavalle or Servando Carrasco alongside Clark in the centre, moving Garcia wide right, replacing Driver, but seeing as they are at home and in need of a win, it is more likely they keep a full complement of attacking players in situ.
The likes of Omar Cummings, Brian Ownby, and Alexander Lopez are more likely to feature from the bench, providing fresh legs and an attacking spark if called upon.
For Toronto to find success in Houston, they must do a better job of being aware of the space they leave on the left-side. Both of Davis’ goals came on plays where the TFC back-line was forced to scramble, collapsing on the movement of Barnes and Bruin, thus opening up the field for Davis to attack the back-post:
Mark Bloom left Wednesday’s match and won't be available, so it may not be the worst idea to field Nick Hagglund in that position – he has a more defensive posture than Bloom and could do well to shore up that side, while Bradley Orr and Doneil Henry reprise their roles in the middle with Steven Caldwell missing out through injury.
Assuming Michael Bradley retains his starting position, Toronto will have to do better at stopping the thrusting runs of Barnes, whose dynamism led to both Houston goals – the run that led to Davis’ first was an example of the difficulty he poses:
Going forward, TFC should look to expose Houston on the counter, as they did last match. When the Dynamo full-backs press forward, the lack of pace in the central defense leaves them exposed, rushing back, and facing their own goal – such as the play that saw Oduro level in stoppage-time:
One of the flaws of Toronto’s attack, something cautioned about in the preseason, was the lack of runners in the box – Osorio took a chance last weekend and was rewarded; TFC should not be afraid of committing an extra midfielder forward when the chance presents itself:
This could be a perfect time to give Dwayne De Rosario a run out; he loves playing against former clubs and given the schedule, no doubt there are some tired legs in the TFC lineup. If he doesn’t get the start, expect him to enter around the hour-mark for a solid cameo appearance.
Toronto’s win last Saturday was their first over Houston since 2011 – snapping a six-match unbeaten run against TFC for the Dynamo.
While that run was snapped, Houston is still unbeaten in their last four home matches against TFC, dating back to a 1-2 win in 2010 (both Toronto goals from Dwayne De Rosario, each a thunderous free-kick; Brian Ching scored for Houston). However, the last three matches in Houston have ended in draws.
The two have now met sixteen times in MLS play, each winning four and drawing the other eight.
For the extra studious, the Know Your Enemy – Parts One and Two – from the last meeting.