Toronto FC is 4-0-2 in their last six matches in all competitions including a 2-1 win in Champion's League play over Tauro FC in Panama on Tuesday night and a 1-0 home victory over Real Salt Lake last weekend. They are 1-2-2 in their last five MLS matches but they're a paltry 0-7-6 on the road. Unfortunately, if it's one thing we've learned about the 2011 Fire it's that numbers and records mean almost nothing with the exception of one number.....15.
It's the single season record breaking total amount of ties that the Fire have amassed with an amazing 10 games to go. The Fire's first encounter with TFC ended in a 2-2 stalemate on May 14. Toronto has gone through numerous changes and acquisitions since May including the addition of two new designated players, forward Danny Koevermans and midfielder Torsten Frings. They also have former Whitecaps captain Terry Dunfield on the squad.
Aron Winter seems to favor a 4-3-3 with Koevermans, rookie Joao Plata, and either Peri Marosevic or Ryan Johnson up top. Plata, a 19 year old Ecuadorian chosen as the 49th pick in the draft has shown flashes of brilliance with his pace and technical ability. Midfield features Frings and another designated player in Julian Guzman with either Eric Avila or Matt Stinson filling the third spot. Avila is on the injured list with a hamstring injury but Winter made some changes last weekend in a 1-0 win against Real Salt Lake. Frings was moved to center back with Avila and Stinson in midfield joining DeGuzman.
Defensively, Toronto has been a mess this season allowing a league high 46 goals although 'keeper Stefan Frei has generally been solid. Frei missed their last league match with a knee injury but is listed as probable for this game. Winter's starters in the 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake were Any Iro and Frings in the middle with Richard Eckersley and Danleigh Borman on the right and left respectively.
The Fire will probably stay with the 4-4-2 alignment that has produced enough chances over the last two matches to have actually earned victories. The combination of Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro should have generated at least one more goal against DC United. If Frank Klopas is weary of tired legs after the match on Wednesday night he still has Diego Chaves, Cristian Nazirit, and Orr Barouch as options at forward.
Speaking of tired legs, Klopas' move to keep Sebastian Grazzini fresh for this match up by pulling him out the DC United game probably cost the Fire three points. With the team's next match six days away there should be no reason to yank Grazzini early again. I'm expecting the rest of the midfield to stay the same with Logan Pause, Pavel Pardo, and Marco Pappa filling out the middle.
The defense in front of Sean Johnson may also change slightly. Cory Gibbs is available and Josip Mikulic should have started the last game at center back. Yamith Cuesta's recent struggles should land him a seat on the bench while Jalil Anibaba has looked very much at home. We could see a Gibbs/Anibaba pairing with Gonzalo Segares and Dan Gargan on the outside. Gargan has played well in two starts since being acquired from Toronto in exchange for Dasan Robinson.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: DF Steven Kinney (L groin strain); MF Marko Maric (L ankle posterior capsulitis); DOUBTFUL: DF Mike Banner (R knee meniscectomy)
TORONTO FC -- OUT: MF Elbekay Bouchiba (R knee surgery recovery); DF Adrian Cann (R knee surgery recovery); DF Dicoy Williams (R knee surgery recovery); QUESTIONABLE: DF Eddy Viator (L hamstring tightness); MF Leandre Griffit (abdominal strain); MF Eric Avila (R hamstring tightness); PROBABLE: FW Ryan Johnson (ankle sprain); GK Stefan Frei (knee contusion)
With two teams near the bottom of the league table can there really be any question?
Fire 1 Toronto FC 1
The Rest of the League
In MLS action last night the New York Red Bulls continue to battle the Fire for the league record in ties. New York picked up their 14th draw of the season in a 2-2 game at New England.
Robbie Keane wasted no time getting on the board for the Galaxy opening his MLS account 21 minutes into the match against San Jose.
In the biggest surprise of the season for me, the Columbus Crew seem to be taking charge of the Eastern Conference after a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union.
Seattle beat FC Dallas in Texas to move into second place in the West.
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