Having passed one of its first big tests of the season pretty well, Toronto FC faces another challenge Saturday afternoon at BMO Field.
How to score without Dwayne De Rosario, the man who has tallied six of its 11 goals this season, along with three assists.
TFC just completed a tough road swing to Montreal, Los Angeles and Vancouver without a loss, but now, minus its captain, must take on a New England Revolution squad that ran it over 4-1 last month in Foxborough, Mass.
De Rosario will suit up for Canada in its friendly against Argentina on Monday, leaving the Reds, a team that has managed to find the back of the net just once in its past three outings in quite a bind.
“It’s always a concern when your top scorer is not here, but we understand he’s not here and we understand we have a job to do,” said TFC head coach Preki.
Striker Chad Barrett, who had a hot foot prior to the trip, added he is confident the rest of the team will perform well in the absence of one of the top players in Major League Soccer.
“On the road trip, we only got one goal, but we were getting a lot of chances and the most important thing is we got three clean sheets in a row and have only allowed one in the past four games,” Barrett said.
“It will be very important to keep that organization and that tightness because we’re going to be missing some key players.
“Guys in the midfield will have to step up and fill DeRo’s shoes, obviously those are really tough shoes to fill ... our depth is really going to be put to the test, but I’m more than confident with whoever steps on the field.”
Barrett and fellow forward O’Brian White are capable goal-scorers and have come together as a pairing, particularly in the 4-1 drubbing of Chicago on May 8, but De Rosario is clearly the engine that drives TFC’s attack.
Without him and, most likely, designated player Julian de Guzman, another nifty creator, TFC will either have to play for a 0-0 draw, or count on improved playmaking from the likes of Nick LaBrocca — who, granted, has played very well of late — Gabe Gala (solid in Wednesday’s 0-0 draw in Vancouver), Amadou Sanyang or former No. 2 overall SuperDraft selection Sam Cronin, who has been in and out of Preki’s lineup.
There is a slight chance de Guzman will be able to go. De Guzman was supposed to join De Rosario in Buenos Aires, but a hamstring injury caused him to skip the trip.
Preki said de Guzman, who got some running in as the rest of the team trained Friday at BMO, was not necessarily out for sure. His presence in the midfield would be a major boost since nobody else on the remaining roster can control and create like de Guzman when he is on his game.
New England has been terrible since its impressive home victory over Toronto.
After turning it on with four strikes in the second half against a TFC defence that simply did not show up for the final 45 minutes, The Revs have gone winless (0-4-2), scoring a meagre two goals in the process while allowing 12.
Losing its star Shalrie Joseph to rehab has played a huge part in the freefall.
White and Barrett are sure that Saturday’s outcome will be far different than the earlier meeting.
“That was our second game of the year, the team was just getting together,” White said.
“Collectively as a team now, we’ve come together,” Barrett added.
Saturday, they will get a chance to prove it.