October 5, 2009
Three teams, two spotsTFC still has post-season shot
By GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA
A rare bye week left Toronto FC players as intense observers on Saturday. The results they saw were not ideal, but TFC isn't out of Major League Soccer playoff contention yet.
In the mess known as the MLS playoff chase, it looks like Colorado, New England and TFC are fighting for the final two spots.
Colorado has two testy road games left at Dallas and Real Salt Lake. Both opponents have been dynamite at home, particularly Real, which has a whopping plus-18 goal differential on home turf.
New England plays the Eastern Conference-leading Columbus Crew home and away, then second-place Chicago.
The Rapids and the Revs control their own destiny, but it's hard to see them coming away with full points.
TFC needs full points. There are no guarantees, but getting to 44 points with three wins seems like enough to make the playoffs. And plum match-ups in their final three games, much easier than their playoff-chasing competitors, puts the onus on the Reds.
Unbelievably for Toronto FC, 27 league games into its season, there still is no consistency in who is playing, who is playing where, and what system the team should be playing.
This is partially due to the new recruits and exiting players that have come and gone through the doors of BMO Field at a ridiculous rate, and partly a head coach not knowing what system he wants his team playing.
So who does Chris Cummins play in the remaining games, pending callups for World Cup qualifiers?
The lack of balance in the side doesn't make that job easy. But with must-win games ahead, this isn't the time to look to next season -- it's time to win, and this is how Cummins should do it.
Although Brian Edwards should have played more this season, this is Stefan Frei's team. Taking Frei out at this point would be nonsensical.
Starting Nick Garcia has been an unmitigated disaster in recent weeks. Regardless of Adrian Serioux's fitness, Garcia cannot be included in the team. He may not have the experience, but Emmanuel Gomez has shown well and is the best fit, in-form centre-back.
If Serioux can't go, Carl Robinson could be shifted to centre-back. Nana Attakora is a no-brainer at one wing-back position. And if Marvell Wynne comes through a fitness test, he should start on the right.
Despite playing the most minutes on the team, Jim Brennan's influence has slipped from week to week. It's a tough decision to make, but Cummins would be wise to drop his captain from the starting XI.
Julian de Guzman will assume his defensive midfield role, leaving Robinson without a place in the midfield. Amado Guevara will play in front of de Guzman, with Sam Cronin playing wide left. The right side of the midfield remains a black hole. There are no good options out there. Chad Barrett has been playing out of position on the right, but hardly provides the service, speed and decisiveness needed.
If healthy, Pablo Vitti is an option. Although not ideal, at least Vitti has the on-ball ability to create on the wing and the pace to challenge defenders.
Another option is bringing Wynne forward from right-back. If Cummins pushes Serioux to a wing-back position and plays Robinson centre-back, Wynne would be the most logical to play outside right.
The centre midfield would be the preferred position to see team MVP Dwayne de Rosario, but Cummins has to play him as a recess-striker, creating while sitting behind the high striker.
Ali Gerba has done nothing to prove he is ready to play the high role at this point. The best out-and-out striker has to be rookie O'Brian White. White's overall influence has grown as the season has progressed and he seems to be the only player with the ability to put the ball in the net with any regularity.