The Fire goes into Saturday's match facing an opponent that has struggled this year amid front office turmoil, drama with former players, and a coach that has become testy with the local media regarding too much negative press. Given all of the off the field problems Toronto FC is a much better team at home than they are on the road. TFC is 2-0 at home, with wins against Seattle and Philadelphia and 0-4 on the road after losses to Columbus, Colorado, New England, and Real Salt Lake.
Preki has tinkered with several different line ups and formations while some of his tactics have come under serious fire in the Canadian press. The loss to Salt Lake on Saturday featured the strategical backfire of not starting Dwayne DeRosario and Julian Guzman while playing Chad Barrett up top as the lone forward. Any Fire fan can tell you in a second why that wasn't going to work.
Toronto's back line has undergone some changes since the opening game but not necessarily for the better. Captain Jim Brennan retired after the first game and assumed a position as an assistant coach. Nick Garcia and Ty Harden, opening day starters, have been out with injuries although Garcia has resumed training. Preki's and Mo Johnston's European acquisitions of Maksim Usanov and Raivis Hscanovics have been wholly unimpressive. Hscanovics at left back is slow and unathletic. Any match up with Patrick Nyarko will surely yield unfavorable results for Toronto. Usanov has started the last four matches at right back while Adrian Cann and Nana Attakora play in the center.
Preki has used several combinations and starters in midfield. DeGuzman is sure to return to the line up at central mid while Preki has several players who have yet to distinguish themselves to choose from in order to fill out the rest of the midfield. USL signee Dan Gargan, Nick LaBrocca, Joseph Nane, Amadou Sanyang, Martin Saric, Sam Cronin, and Gabe Gala have all started matches this year. Dwayne DeRosario has played both attacking mid and forward this year. The decision to drop Amado Guevara during the offseason is also drawing criticism amongst TFC fans. Adding fuel to the fire, DeGuzman hasn't exactly performed like a Designated Player either.
The familiar Barrett and O'Brian White are the forwards if Preki chooses to drop DeRosario into the midfield. The effectiveness of the forwards is evident when you consider that DeRosario has scored 6 of the team's 7 total goals this season.
For the Fire, Krzystof Krol returns to the starting eleven at left back beside the usual starting back line of Wilman Conde, CJ Brown, and Tim Ward. Logan Pause will travel with team and will probably be available from the bench while Baggio Husidic and Peter Lowry deservedly retain their starting roles. The left wing spot is in question with Justin Mapp's hamstring injury keeping him out of this match. I would expect Mike Banner to temporarily assume that role. Marco Pappa and Nyarko should find more room for success against Toronto's questionable back line and mediocre midfield.
Collins John just returned to full training on Thursday so I'm expecting Brian McBride to get the nod up top.
It will be interesting to see if Preki assumes the 4-5-1 formation that Chivas used successfully to quiet the Fire offensively or if the Toronto coach will consider his ill advised defensive tactics against Rea Salt Lake and opt for a more convential two forward set.
With Toronto in flux while Preki figures out his line up and formation (in between battling the local media) I'm seeing this one finishing in a 1-1 draw.
MLS Weekend Picks
Six other games are on tap for Saturday.
Seattle 2 Los Angeles 1 - Short turnaround after a mid week game sees LA's first loss
Columbus 3 New England 1 - There's only so much Nicol can do with this squad
Real Salt Lake 2 Philadelphia 0 - Champs at home should be a lock
FC Dallas 3 DC United 0 - Celebration ends for DC
New York 1 San Jose 1 - Earthquakes will outplay them but give away two points
Houston 1 Chivas USA 1 - Houston is up and down but Chivas seems to be finding form