Time for a little road trip, a nice little jaunt to Texas - maybe not swing by TFC's favourite hot spot Club Escobar - but instead stop by BBVA Compass Stadium for a little game of footy. What better way to spend a Saturday night?
Toronto FC is halfway through a packed July schedule and with only 5 points from four games (three at home), the Reds need to ensure that they stay consistent in getting positive results whether home or away. While they still have multiple games in hand over the teams in the Eastern Conference, those will soon no longer be a factor so the Reds need to get points at every opportunity. Yes I realize that is always the case, but TFC haven't exactly been making the most of the dubious gift from the MLS schedulers and they need to start, and soon.
TFC are heading into Houston slightly undermanned due to a rash of injuries suffered in the past week. Steven Caldwell is out for several weeks with a torn quad muscle, Jackson has strained his Achilles and will be out for at least a week (likely two), and Mark Bloom has a severe MCL strain and isn't expected back until the fall. Fun times eh? Luckily for once Toronto boasts some depth so for the moment (barring any more injuries), they should be able to handle the defensive losses - Nick Hagglund will sub in for Bloom and Bradley Orr takes over for Caldwell. Who replaces Jackson? Well Dominic Oduro is the most likely candidate, especially for the game in Houston where his speed should serve well on the attack.
As much as I'd like to see Ryan Nelsen gamble with the formation it is unlikely given they're on the road and playing a team that hasn't won in seven games - in fact they've lost six of those games. Playing against an angry and getting more desperate by the day team is usually not the time for experimentation. You want your team to all be on the same page and not trying to navigate a new setup.
So while I'm dying to see Gilberto get a start (Maybe in a nice 4-3-3 or 4-3-2-1), again I'm not holding my breath. And for all of you that think he doesn't deserve the start, I understand your reluctance especially after yet another classic Ol Gil miss the other night. However consider how the game changes when he's inserted into the game - how the energy and attack shifts into another gear. Also consider that he and Jermain Defoe actually work well together and that Gil may be one of the few on the team capable of giving him the service he needs.
However what Toronto really needs to concentrate on is two words: Brad Davis. Seriously, how many different ways can we say it? I said it last week, James has mentioned it in his piece, we talked about it on the Vocal Minority Podcast - just bloody well mark Brad Davis! It's really not rocket science, but that second goal was doubly frustrating and while it was heartening to see them be more aware the rest of the game that second goal just shouldn't have happened. However, the Reds need to also be more aware of the man that set up Davis for those goals, Giles Barnes. Barnes was a terror last Saturday and certainly gave the wings and the defense fits. Containing him along with Davis will be key if Toronto hope to come away with a point, let alone three.
Something for TFC fans to be hopeful about is the partnership of Michael Bradley and Collen Warner - the duo were instrumental in keeping the pesky Vancouver Whitecaps contained on Wednesday night. It was great to see Bradley playing more like his old self and Warner just continues to impress each time he steps on the pitch. The pair will need to have a very solid game against the Dynamo as Houston will be looking for a bit of revenge as well as trying to stop a slide that sees them only above the Impact in the standings.
Expect this to be a scrappy affair but while Toronto isn't always the best on the road they've had far better luck this season with a couple wins early in the season and two draws in their recent run. It is doubtful that we will see the goalfest that was on display last Saturday but Defoe will want to keep his pace up and the rest of the team (led by temporary captain Michael Bradley) will want to show that a few injuries will not affect the team. I think a draw is fair and more than possible for this game as TFC has managed that feat the last three times they've travelled to Houston. Fingers crossed folks - come on you Reds!