Fatigued and left with a weakened lineup, Toronto FC takes on a club tonight that appears to be in much the same state.
Real Salt Lake, like TFC, played an away CONCACAF Champions League match Tuesday and it is unclear what type of lineup the defending Major League Soccer champions will field at BMO, where they have never won.
Coach Jason Kreis told the Sun that the exhausting 5-4 loss to Cruz Azul in swamp-like conditions at Mexico City has left him with little choice than to make a host of players game-time decisions Saturday evening.
The Reds played a similarly bizarre match in Panama Tuesday, but injuries are more the concern for the home side.
Strikers Chad Barrett and Maicon Santos are still unable to play. To make things worse for coach Preki and his staff, top defender Nana Attakora is suspended after being sent off against New York last week for a hand ball.
Preki scoffed at the notion that newly-signed 17-year-old Doniel Henry is ready to step in. Ty Harden or veteran Nick Garcia are the most likely candidates to shift to Attakora’s spot.
Barrett said it was the third time this season he has tweaked his hamstring and groin and that he would exercise caution and a return was, “hopefully not three or four weeks down the road.”
“It is what it is, we have to deal with it,” coach Preki said of the missing talent. “This is what we have; (there’s) nothing we can do. We have to go with this group.”
Like TFC, RSL is still talking about getting over the CONCACAF theatrics.
“The way to show that we’ve overcome (the Cruz Azul) result is to be resilient and go into Toronto and try and win that game,” general manager Garth Lagerwey told RSL’s website.
“We’ve got a long trip in front of us, and Toronto is a very good team. It’s going to be an enormous challenge for us playing up there, where we’ve never won.”
If it fields anything close to a regular lineup, RSL will make it difficult for the Reds to start a new streak at BMO.
Saturday’s loss to New York ended a 17-game MLS undefeated streak there.
Striker Alvaro Saborio has eight league goals and is the frontrunner for newcomer of the year. , Javier Morales has scored six times and two other players have five.
By way of comparison, Dwayne De Rosario has nine strikes for TFC and the next-leading healthy scorer is O’Brian White, with two.
RSL also has the edge in the stinginess department with keeper Nick Rimando currently sitting third in both goals against and save percentage, way ahead of Stefan Frei.
“We’re really expecting a tough game,” Preki said.
Midfielder Julian de Guzman described RSL as “the best team in the league.”
Preki denied a rift between he and designated player Mista, insisting the striker was “banged up” and that was the reason he sat in Panama, despite multiple sources telling the Sun otherwise.
“Just garbage coming from the press,” said the coach, adding the Spaniard will see plenty of action Saturday, whether in a starting role or off the bench.