The friendly circus has left town and now it's time for Toronto FC to turn to the business at hand - winning games. Although this weekend's match may put a crimp in that considering the opponent. TFC are starting this next stretch of games up against one of the best teams in the league at the moment - not to mention current MLS champions - the always dangerous Sporting KC.
This is a fixture that has worried me for a few weeks now as SKC have been on a pretty decent run of form winning four of their last five, including two on the road. Whereas our Reds have drawn three of the last five, getting a mere six points from those games that included a three game homestand - not exactly setting the table on fire. And yet due to either the competitive nature of the East or the lack of quality depending on your view, TFC are still in third place, with games in hand (three over SKC).
Still, this is going to be a difficult match for Toronto even if all of the preferred starting XI were available for selection. As we know TFC is missing Steven Caldwell and Mark Bloom to injury and Jermain Defoe to suspension for yellow card accumulation. Interesting note about the Defoe yellow cards; he leads the team in yellows. That's right, the team's diminutive leading goal scorer also has the most yellow cards - doesn't seem right but there it is. Anyway, three players that have featured in the vast majority of TFC's games and the one that scores the goals are all unavailable going up against one of the best teams in the league. Who's excited?!
SKC are not only one of the better teams at the moment they are also a team full of confidence and momentum given the recent signing of Matt Besler and Graham Zusi to DP contracts. Zusi is long a favourite and a high profile player but it is the inclusion of Besler that is seen as a coup given that it seemed for certain that he was heading to the EPL following his play at the World Cup. However SKC (and by association MLS) are making a statement with this signing; not only of continued stability within the team but also that they (and the league) are big enough to retain their stars.
Of course Kansas are far more than just Zusi and Besler - just running through their lineup is enough to give you pause. But top of mind should be Dom Dwyer, scorer of fourteen of Sporting's twenty-nine goals, Benny Feilhaber, who sets up those goals, and the pesky Aurelien Collin (arguably one of the dirtiest players in MLS) - all of whom have caused more than their fair share of trouble for Toronto in the past.
This game will likely be the most difficult game that they've played this year and that includes early season tilts against the Sounders and RSL as well as next week's trip to Washington to face rivals DC United. But that's the point of good teams - they rise to the challenge of facing the tough teams. TFC actually have a habit of usually playing to the level of the team they're facing - hence many woeful performances against table bottom feeders. Hopefully our Reds are rested - well most of them - and focused on the rest of the season without any further distractions
It's not all bad news for Toronto - Jackson has been pronounced fit and available to play so that gives Ryan Nelsen some options on the wing. Newest Red Warren Creavalle is here and could help out with Toronto's somewhat beleaguered backline, although I'd imagine it's doubtful that he'll start having just arrived. Up front will be Gilberto who we hope (oh do we hope) that he's found his confidence and that two goals in he's got a taste for it now. It was nice to see Ol Gil get a goal from open play and while I'd rather see him playing with Defoe (even though we will soon), hopefully he & Luke Moore will work well together.
Relying on Gilberto and Moore is still necessary even with the showing of Andrew Wiedeman and Jordan Hamilton in the friendly against Tottenham on Wednesday night. Although having a confident sub on the bench is always a good thing - referring to Wieds of course as it would seem that Hamilton is heading to Portugal. The rest of the lineup should be fairly familiar. Collen Warner and Michael Bradley are forming a nice partnerhship in the midfield and giant mistake last weekend or not you know that this is not the game to sit Bradley Orr. Even though seeing Nick Hagglund and Doneil Henry together in the middle wouldn't be the worst thing, would it?
Expect a fast game, a high pressure game and a physical game. Key players are fully rested from last week and other starters only went forty-five minutes on Wednesday so there shouldn't be any fatigue issues. Yes, the Reds have 3 games in 8 days but taking on SKC has to be there primary focus - expect as close to preferred team out there today and while a win would be fantastic, I'll be delighted with a draw.