TFC at a disadvantage

GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

Is there anything worse than watching a soccer game on a football field?

It's terrible to watch. The yard lines are distracting and it looks completely bush league.

But for Toronto FC fans, there wasn't a better sight than the Reds' 3-1 win Saturday over the New York Red Bulls on the converted football field at the Meadowlands.

In a must-win game, TFC did just that, making a case that it is a player in the playoff race.

While numerically they're part of the playoff equation, it's once again the number of players leaving the team for international duty that is keeping TFC's playoff chances in the "far-fetched" category.

TFC is losing its entire centre-midfield and all of its central defensive corps, among others for next weekend's huge match at FC Dallas.

It has been talked about ad nauseum before, how the MLS really has missed the boat when it comes to not-recognizing the international soccer schedule.

Who is in, and who is out of the playoffs shouldn't be decided by teams who are not at full-strength by nothing of their own doing.

FC Dallas is in a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots, and seemingly has an advantage over the other playoff hopefuls playing a weakened TFC side.

From a fairness and competitiveness vantage, this makes no sense.

As for FC Dallas, it is virtually unaffected by World Cup qualifying.

In fact, Canadian defender Adrian Serioux will be included on the FC Dallas side, suspended internationally because of yellow card accumulation.

The gain for FC Dallas isn't only Canada's loss, but a loss for TFC as well, with centre-back Kevin Harmse being called to the Canadian side to cover for Serioux's absence.

Harmse has been solid for TFC since gaining manager John Carver's trust in the centre of defence.

Aside from his defensive-lapse leading to Dane Richards goal Saturday, Harmse has provided the grit and tenacity that was lacking in the middle of the park.

With Harmse gone, joining Tyrone Marshall and Marco Velez on international duty, it looks like captain Jim Brennan will shift to centre-back, a role he thrived in last season.

Early last week, Brennan's exclusion from the Canadian team for Saturday's game against Honduras raised a lot of eyebrows.

Now, the move seems to speak to the pressure Carver and company had been putting on Canadian head coach Dale Mitchell and the CSA to keep their players with the club side if they were not going to start and play a significant role internationally.

So Brennan staying home as well as goalkeeper Greg Sutton drastically improves TFC's chances Saturday.

As for the rest of the squad, let the lineup juggling begin.

Aside from the striking combination of Chad Barrett and Danny Dichio, wholesale changes are on the way.

Cue Rohan Ricketts moving to the inside of the midfield, making room for Abdus Ibrahim and Johann Smith on the wings. Tyler Rosenlund, who has looked decent in spurts, will have the job of anchoring the midfield, sitting behind Ricketts.

Nana Attakora-Gyan seems like the logical fit to play in the centre of defence partnering Brennan, with Gabe Gala and Hunter Freeman defending from the outside.

Unquestionably, this team is stronger than the makeshift team that lost to Chivas under similar circumstances earlier this year. And the youth and speed injected into the lineup could make for a free-flowing match.

Regardless, just like the Canadian team, TFC is up against it.

Saturday will be a dogfight for two teams on the road, in must-win games where they're decided underdogs.

The only thing for you to decide is which game to watch.

LIONS PUNISHED

Last week's top-ranked CIS Men's soccer team, the York Lions, were docked 12 points for playing with an illegal player, former Toronto FC striker Andrea Lombardo, for four games earlier this season.

According to the rules, players who play professionally must wait a year from the date they play their last game professionally before being eligible to play in the CIS. Lombardo played one game earlier this season for TFC, thus becoming ineligible.

However, there was some confusion regarding Lombardo's eligibility.

According to the rules, players who sign developmental contracts with an MLS team still can play CIS soccer. This is not the case when it comes to the NCAA, as it has far more stringent rules.

As of a couple of weeks ago, head of York University's soccer program, Paul James, had believed Lombardo had signed only a developmental contract with TFC, making him eligible to play for York.

Because of this incident, the Lions will be careful in their future dealings with York student and TFC developmental player Nana Attakora-Gyan.

Despite the point deduction, York responded this weekend with two wins, and sits third in the OUA West Division.

Barring any other punishment dished out by the CIS or OUA, York still will make the playoffs and is one of the favourites to win the OUA championship.


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