Twelve games. Toronto FC have twelve games left on the season. That's an awesome Sesame Street song's worth of games to not only solidify their place in the standings (thereby leaving no doubt of playoffs), but also to show that this team can bounce back from a bad performance and show growth down the stretch.
Games between the Fire and TFC are usually entertaining affairs - there's usually lots of goals (let this be foreshadowing), they're often scrappy yet not so scrappy as to be filled with ill will, Section 8 (Fire SG) usually travels with a decent number of supporters to give some added atmosphere and well - they're just fun! Hopefully today we'll get fun in the form of a nice little bounce back win.
Now on one hand playing the Chicago Fire seems like a good tonic for what ails you - mired near the bottom of the standings and seemingly incapable of winning games. Mike Magee has been a shadow of the goal scoring machine from last season, rookie Harrison Shipp has stopped setting the league afire and TFC reclamation project Quincy Amerikwa has reverted back to (lack of) form. Defensively they've not been great shakes either letting in 35 goals (although in the East that's almost solid), so far this season.
They seem especially porous at the back when on the road, letting in 20 goals when travelling. And in a somewhat surprising move given these issues, they just traded Jhon Kennedy Hurtado to Chivas USA for allocation money. Oh that sweet,sweet allocation money - makes you wonder what Frank Yallop has up his sleeve, doesn't it? *cough - Jermaine Jones - cough*. But we'll take a further weakened defensive unit and run any day of the week! It is likely that Jeff Larentowicz will have to once again shift back to the centre of defence which should weaken the Fire's midfield - yay for areas of exploitation!
But even with all of the defensive issues the Fire have shown some surprising resilience and are by far and away leading the league in draws - thirteen to be exact. Just three more and they will have tied the league record; which to be honest would be kind of fun. The Fire have only two all-time draws at BMO though with one already coming earlier this year - good enough, we've contributed to their march to the record, time to put out that fire (see what I did there?).
All is not utterly laughable when it comes to the Fire; they umm let's see - well they don't score a lot of goals - well they didn't but in some of the most surprising news out of last week the Fire have signed former TFC striker Robert Earnshaw! Oh yes, just in time to come into BMO and score a traditional former Red hat trick. You think I'm kidding when I am completely serious about this. It is one of Toronto's cherished traditions and they haven't changed so much that they're not still susceptible to the former player curse.
However TFC and Ryan Nelsen have cause to celebrate and brush aside any worries about the likes of Earnshaw - the injured players are returning, the injured players are returning! Yes, yesterday word came from TFC's training session that the most sorely needed of the injured players (read: pretty much all of them) are fit and available to play in tonight's match.
For those of you not playing with a score-card that means that Mark Bloom, Steven Caldwell and Jermain Defoe are set to join recent returnee Bright Dike to the eighteen, with Bloom and Caldwell the more likely to see the start. The return of the injured players comes at arguably the very best time for TFC. Almost all (nine) of their remaining games are against conference rivals and their next five are against those that are on the other side of the red line. There are points to be had from these games; points that good teams take; points that TFC have to take to solidify third place and possibly move up the table.
Toronto seems to have it's share of fire-power these days with Gilberto on a lovely run of form and working fairly well with Luke Moore. Expect them to start again and for Defoe to come in off the bench in the second half. This isn't a game that you rush the team's leading scorer back into the starting lineup.
No the more important thing for Toronto is the return of Bloom and Caldwell to the eleven. Toronto FC had been looking much better at the back this season and (as shown in horrific highlight after horrific highlight) these past weeks without those two have been nightmare-esque.
Even though there is better depth this year there appears to be no replacing Mark Bloom at RB (who knew?) and Caldwell's steady (hand waving included) presence in the centre has also been missing. While the youth movement in the middle was nice to watch and may still be the future, it is clear that Nick Hagglund and Doneil Henry (oh Doneil) are still not ready to anchor the back line.
This should be a fun one folks - just remember that the Ex is on so LEAVE EARLY! Whether that means wandering around eating horribly concocted, deep fried 'foods' or getting in the giant line rides for hours before the match or just getting to a close pub an hour earlier than normal to walk over and push through the crowds I'll leave up to you. But seriously, leave early - see you there for TFC's club record tying win! Come On You Reds!