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Having had the schedule work against them for much of the season, Toronto FC might have it to thank late on Saturday night if they can take the opportunity to snag three points they would normally do very well to put on the board.
The Reds are making their annual trip to Texas to face FC Dallas this evening in what looked, at the start of the season, to represent one of their major tests this year. Due to the interference of the Gold Cup, however, their hosts will not be at full strength.
Dallas remain the favourites to reach the MLS Cup final out of the Western Conference with many oddsmakers despite a mixed first half of the campaign, but they will be without three core pieces for Toronto’s visit. Matt Hedges and Kellyn Acosta have left to join up with the USA ahead of this summer’s CONCACAF championship, while Walker Zimmerman might have been travelling with them if not for a knee injury.
The absence of their best two central defenders and central midfielder would be damaging enough to Dallas’ hopes, but they are also without Maynor Figueroa, a Honduras international, who has been partnering Hedges while Zimmerman has been sidelined.
Oscar Pareja has a bit of a crisis on his hands, then, at the back. He was without those three defenders and Acosta against the Portland Timbers early in June and could not steer his side away from a 2-0 defeat.
The Colombian coach would appear to have little option but to field the same back line he did in that game, with his only other available defender being 19-year-old right-back Reggie Cannon. That will mean utility man Atiba Harris sliding inside to centre-back alongside Walker Hume, a 23-year-old rookie.
Even with Acosta missing, though, Toronto will have to be wary of Dallas’ potential going forward; nine-goal Maxi Urruti will lead the attack, likely with support from Roland Lamah, Michael Barrios and the fit-again Mauro Diaz.
Urruti, of course, came to MLS when Toronto acquired him from Newell’s Old Boys of Argentina but made just two appearances for the Reds before being traded to Portland in a deal that delivered... Bright Dike and Skylar Thomas.
The key battle from Toronto’s perspective will be out wide, where Greg Vanney has selection decisions to make due to the absences of Justin Morrow, Raheem Edwards and Steven Beitashour. He is likely to pick Tsubasa Endoh and Ashtone Morgan and if they can do an adequate job in their own half of the field, the Reds will be very well placed to take something from the game.
When they can get Urruti, Diaz, Acosta and their central defensive pairing together on the pitch at the same time, Dallas will be a force to be reckoned with. That will not be tonight, though, and on paper Toronto have a very good chance of securing a win it might not normally be reasonable to expect.
TV channel & live stream
TV: TSN 4 (Canada), TXA-21 (Dallas)
Stream: TSN Go (Canada), MLS Live* (out of market)
Radio: TSN 1050 (Toronto), 100.7 FM (Dallas)
*This match is the first free game of the week to be offered on MLS Live for fans located where blackout restrictions do not apply.
Nick Hagglund remains sidelined for Toronto and Justin Morrow, Raheem Edwards, Jonathan Osorio and Tosaint Ricketts have left for the Gold Cup. Armando Cooper, however, is available despite being included in Panama’s squad.
Dallas are without Walker Zimmerman, who is recovering from a knee injury. They will also be missing a trio of starters in Matt Hedges, Kellyn Acosta and Maynor Figueroa, who comprise their Gold Cup call-ups.
Dallas: Gonzalez; Grana, Harris, Hume, Guillen; Gruezo, Ulloa; Barrios, Diaz, Lamah; Urruti.
Toronto: Bono; Zavaleta, Moor, Mavinga; Endoh, Delgado, Bradley, Vazquez, Morgan; Altidore, Giovinco.