Reds set to face Timbers

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:47 PM ET

TORONTO - Toronto FCís home schedule kicks off Saturday afternoon as the Reds welcome the expansion Portland Timbers to BMO Field.

After a 4-2 loss last week to Portlandís expansion brethren, the Vancouver Whitecaps, itís fair to ask the question again this week which team will look more like an expansion side.

Eager eyes will be on head coach Aron Winter in his home debut.† Winterís tactical changes to the side have not been complimented by suitable replacements in the roster.† And if last weekís match is any indication, expectations need be tempered for the home opener.† The game-books list Toronto a heavy favourite for the match.† If youíre a gambling man, you may find value with the visitors, or dropped points for the home side at the very least.

Temperatures are expected to frigid at game time, with a high of minus-3 projected for Saturday.† The sub-zero temperatures are nothing new to those growing up in the Canadian soccer youth system, where playing outdoors on suitable turf surfaces was a necessity, before full-field indoor facilities became more readily available in the Greater Toronto Area.

†Field conditions at kick-off shouldnít be a concern with a heating system in place to warm the surface.† A cold lake-effect wind is more of a worry.† BMO Fieldís lake-front location makes for high winds causing havoc with balls played in the air.† Former Toronto FC midfielder Nick Labroccaís memorable wind-aided goal against Chicago in the stadiumís south end last season serves fair warning.

Tickets are still available for the match, and Toronto FCís four-year streak of home-opener sellouts is in serious jeopardy.† The teamís on-field failures and price-point have made the ticket difficult to push; the cold weather is the clincher.† Torontonians attending the MLS Cup in Toronto last November can attest to less than enjoyable conditions; one of the many reasons the Cup final wasnít at capacity.† Itís fair to say the expectation of match sellouts as the norm at BMO Field have come and gone because of fan apathy.

March 26 marks the earliest Toronto FC has played a home game in Major League Soccer.† Toronto has traditionally started with multiple road fixtures to avoid the unpredictable Southern Ontario weather.† The previous earliest home date was April 4, 2009, a dreary afternoon and a 2-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders.

As cruel as the schedule-makers are for the early home fixture, Portland must feel short-changed as well, starting their MLS voyage with back-to-back road games, spanning the continent. The Timbers lost their opening match of the season, 3-1, at the defending champion Colorado Rapids.

Scoring for the Timbers was longtime FC Dallas striker, Kenny Cooper, marking his return to MLS.† The 26-year-old spent a disappointing season in Europe, out of form and injured for Germanyís 1860 Munich and English Championship side Plymouth.† Saturdayís goal was Cooperís first in competitive action since September 2009.

Cooperís MLS pedigree speaks for itself; 40 goals in 90 matches with FC Dallas. He has scored six goals in his past four games against Toronto FC.† Vancouverís 6-foot-4 Designated Player Eric Hassli scored twice against the Reds last week.† And Cooper poises a similar threat at 6-foot-3, possessing requisite size, strength and physicality to succeed in the North American game.

Despite Portland struggling defensively at Colorado (a trademark of a young and developing side), head coach John Spencer isnít expected to make any changes to his lineup.

For Toronto FC, Winter is more likely to make changes from the opener.† TFCís head coach holds his cards close to his chest when it comes to squad selection.† So what changes will be made are up in the air.

†Itís expected Adrian Cann will return to central defence, where he formed a capable partnership with Nana Attakora last season.† Mikael Yourassowsky is expected to take Cannís place at left-back.

Striker Alan Gordon will be in uniform, after passport problems kept the former Chivas USA player from joining Toronto last week.† Newly acquired Serbian international Alen Stevanovic was expected to join the team late Friday.† Itís unlikely the 20-year-old will make his debut.† Winter also indicated midfielder Julian de Guzman is still a couple weeks away from making his season debut after off-season knee surgery.

†Expansion teams have been no walk in the park for Toronto over the years.†Five new teams have joined MLS since Toronto FC arrived in 2007 ó San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders, Philadelphia Union, Whitecaps and Timbers.† Toronto has only one win against new franchises in their respective expansion years.† TFCís home record against expansion sides is 1-1-1.


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