Game Reds gearing up for Crew
Toronto FC looks for first win over Columbus in seventh try
03/27/2009 11:11 AMBy Mark Polishuk / MLSnet.com Staff
TORONTO -- Toronto FC's 3-2 victory in Kansas City last Saturday wasn't just a positive way to begin the 2009 MLS season, it was also an exorcism of some of the demons that plagued the Reds throughout 2008. The same club that finished last season second-worst in goals scored, allowed 13 goals in the final 15 minutes of games and collected just 11 of a possible 45 points on the road managed to push the attack and hang on to their one-goal lead for an important away victory against an Eastern Conference rival.
Now, as the Reds prepare for their second match of the new season, they have the chance to overcome two more obstacles: prove they can win without key players and defeat the Columbus Crew.
"It's going to be a tough game," said Toronto head coach John Carver. "The fact that we have two guys in the heart of our midfield out is a little bit concerning, but it will give the opportunity to other players to come into the team and make an impact."
The two midfielders in question are Amado Guevara and Carl Robinson, who will both miss the Columbus game due to international duty in 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Guevara, a week removed from scoring a brace against the Wizards, will captain Honduras against Trinidad and Tobago on Saturday, and on April 1 against Mexico. Robinson, meanwhile, heads to Cardiff to join the Welsh national team against Finland on Saturday and Germany on April 1.
Dealing with international absences is nothing new for TFC. The Reds' roster was often short several players last season, with the apex coming last Sept. 6 when TFC missed nine players to World Cup qualifiers and unsurprisingly suffered a 3-1 loss at BMO Field to Chivas USA.
The difference this year, Carver feels, is that his team has more depth to handle losing key players like Guevara and Robinson. He noted that Columbus will also be without some international players (Alejandro Moreno, Frankie Hejduk and Duncan Oughton), and that after last year's problems in just filling out a starting XI, losing just two players seems like comparatively less of a problem.
"It's only two players at the moment. It's a big change from last year," Carver said. "We have to deal with it and get on with it. I'm not going to cry about it.
"[The league] gave us the option of when we wanted to [have] a weekend off for international football. We chose to play this weekend because further down the line there would be more internationals away. So the fact that we're only losing two at the moment is a little bit of a godsend."
One of the players expected to help fill the void in the midfield is Sam Cronin. The rookie received his first MLS start last Saturday and didn't look at all out of place throughout the full 90 minutes. For a player who is often compared style-wise to Robinson, it is likely that Cronin will be called upon to take on the veteran Welshman's holding midfield role.
"Everyone's got to step up for sure," Cronin said. "It's not just going to be one player to step up, it's going to be everyone on the field. ... We have a lot of guys who have international duty and will miss games throughout the season so people have to be prepared to step in and do their part."
Cronin pointed out that while the absences are difficult to deal with, the fact that TFC has so many international-caliber players is a sign of the team's strength.
"That's what comes with having great players on your side," he said. "We have guys who have played for national teams and top clubs all over the world. For a first-year player like myself I think I'm in a great situation and if I can learn a few things from them every day I'll be a better player for it."
Whatever the TFC side looks like on Saturday, the Reds realize that the game is an important measuring stick against the defending MLS Cup champions. The Crew are one of four teams (along with New England, Chivas and San Jose) that TFC has never defeated, posting a 0-3-3 all-time record in six matches against Columbus. Two of those draws did come last year during the Crew's championship season, however, showing that the Reds consistently give their Trillium Cup rivals a tough game no matter what the standings show.
The main focus of the Toronto defense will be MLS MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who already has one goal to his name in 2009 after scoring the equalizer in the Crew's 1-1 draw against Houston last Saturday. While Schelotto is the biggest threat on the Columbus side, however, TFC midfielder Dwayne De Rosario knows that it takes more than one man to give a team the MLS Cup.
"He's a great player, he's proved it many times," De Rosario said. "We just have to be mindful of him. But Columbus isn't made up of all Schelottos, it's made up of 11 great players. Most of the playmaking comes off of his foot whether he's assisting or creating goals, and I think we have guys defensively who can handle him."
Shutting down Schelotto and beating the Crew on their home field would be another sign that this season's Toronto FC club is ready to put the past behind them. Carver said that he isn't letting the First Kick victory in K.C. go to his players' heads, but he thinks the Reds can give Columbus all it can handle in their home opener.
"Columbus, it's their first home game and they're going to be presented with their championship rings," Carver said. "It's a big day for them but hopefully we can go there and spoil the party for them."
Mark Polishuk is a contributor to MLSnet.com.
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