So much for home stands eh? Four of Toronto FC's last seven games played at BMO - three of them in a row and still they can't get manage to string together wins. Sure there's lots of reasons to throw about for that, but this team is a much different team than last year and some more postive results are rightfully expected. Post World Cup Toronto FC hasn't exactly set the league on fire, with only seven points from those aforementioned games; and yet given the oddity of MLS and its parity our Reds are still third in the Eastern Conference. Playoffs baby!
Saturday's game against Sporting KC showed a team that is more than capable of playing with the big boys - but mental lapses at both ends of the pitch were again their undoing. We say over and over again that good teams find ways to win (or hell, even get another draw) in situations like this. They lost to a very good team that was down a man, a team that they'd owned pretty much the entire game. They wasted a fantastic effort by Dominic Oduro. And they lost a chance to gain ground in the table. Frustrating right?
And yet in that game you see the difference, you can see a team that is doing better, that will be in the playoffs, that can take on one of the best in the league, frustrate their best players, and even make them look a little ordinary. There were lots of angry/frustrated words from both players and the coach after the match on the weekend and rightly so - they let SKC win that game and both players and the coach were to blame.
But words in interviews and pressers mean nothing if they don't react and, you know, actually change the behaviours - see defensive lapses and inability to finish. And now they're off on a four game road trip, a place where TFC does not normally excel, except in another positive change on the season they've actually managed to secure points and even win some games at the opposition this season so all hope is not lost.
Tonight's match against D.C. United is the final game between the two closely linked teams and this one decides the season series; TFC winning back at the beginning of the season when DCU were faltering and of course they handed Toronto their first loss in six games when they came to town earlier this month. Fun! This match also has playoff and table implications with DC ahead of Toronto on points and only one game in hand (which wouldn't bridge the gap). Toronto needs a positive result - hell they need a win - if they're to start making up ground in the table.
Of course TFC are heading into DC while they're on a run of good form; they've won their last three, Eddie Johnson has finally started scoring (albeit only from the spot so far) and Luis Silva has scored five goals in the last five games. Fantastic - just as Toronto have decided to start falling asleep defensively again. Any bets on how many goals Silva will score on his old club?
However all is not sunshine and roses for DCU; they're still without Fabian Espindola (although he did return to training this week), Kyle Porter is hurt, Chris Pontius is still out and Jeff Parke has also been side-lined with medical issues. So that stingy home defensive record (only nine goals allowed) may have some cracks in it.
Another positive - perhaps the most important one given Saturday's game - is that Jermain Defoe will be returning from suspension tonight. TFC sorely needed his clinical finishing on the weekend and while they can't rely on him as the sole provider of goals, when he plays they generally do better. His play off the ball and in drawing the defence has to be acknowledged and will be needed tonight.
Coach Ryan Nelsen will need to put out his 'A' team (or as close to it as possible), tonight if he hopes to get maximum points not only from tonight's match, but from this week. While yes it's always fun to beat the Impact they are languishing at the bottom of the table and Toronto should (really, I swear) be able to get a result at Saputo on Saturday - but points in DC are far more important.
Expect to see TFC's newest player Warren Creavalle at rightback tonight with Nick Hagglund lining up next to Bradley Orr as Doniel Henry is serving a suspension for yellow card accumulation. And after Saturday's outstanding performance Dominic Oduro has to get the start. The main question is will Nelsen once again leave Gilberto on the bench and start Defoe up top with Luke Moore? Or might we see Gil and Defoe paired to start the game? Their speed and positioning could do well against a weakened DC backline.
Regardless Toronto will need to be in top form this evening if they hope to start not just moving up the table and keeping a firm hold on third spot, but to show that this is a different team, a better team, a winning team. Fingers crossed folks, this is going to be one of *those* games. Come On You Reds!