Eckersley, Plata deserve more TFC playing time

 KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:12 AM ET

While Wednesday night’s match allowed first team players a chance to get their bearings after a nightmarish performance in Seattle, Toronto FC can’t afford a repeat of the outing that followed their last casual mid-week match in Edmonton — a lethargic showing that saw the Sounders overwhelm the Reds in every aspect.

In need of three points, Toronto must set aside the build-up for the most stirring domestic final in Canada’s history and refocus ahead of Saturday’s league match with Houston. 

Aron Winter must address TFC’s lack of focus to start games if the Reds hope to secure just their second league win of the season. Having allowed four goals inside the opening 15 minutes through eight games, an early setback against an organized and disciplined club will be curtains. 

Following another energetic and spirited outing against Edmonton, Richard Eckersley is all but a lock to appear Saturday night if Winter deems him match fit. Following TFC’s 1-0 win, the Dutchman hinted that the Englishman is still chasing full match fitness and struggled to close Wednesday night’s game. 

Aside from a short conditioning spat, TFC have solved the dilemma at right back as Eckersley’s willingness to join the attack is as strong as his ability to frustrate attackers with his no nonsense and scrappy defending. The former Burnley man has an excellent soccer mind and may turn out to be the best signing this season. 

But while the additions of Danleigh Boreman and Eckersley have solidified TFC’s width, the spot alongside centre-half Adrian Cann remains a mystery. With Nana Attakora currently an afterthought and Ty Harden looking far from comfortable in Cup games, is Winter set on Decoy Williams after witnessing the clinic Seattle put on last week?

TFC’s ever evolving back four is improving, but the inability of someone to secure a place next to Cann is concerning ahead of Houston — a team strong on set pieces that punishes the slightest of mistakes. 

Joao Plata isn’t a lock to start against the Dynamo, but is in the conversation after his performance against Edmonton featured more of what we’ve come to expect from the young draft pick. Cutting in from the left side and cleverly weaving in and out of tackles, the pass that set up Alan Gordon’s winner sent a clear message to TFC’s bench: “Find a place for me.” 

Although small in stature, the Ecuadorian has a massive amount of confidence. Plata’s courage to run at opposing backs is something that can’t be taught and his quick first step helps him get past defenders.

Not bad for someone most teams thumbed their noses at. 

LOOKED OVER, LITERALLY 

An unknown heading into the 2011 MLS draft, Winter used Toronto’s fourth selection to grab Plata 49th overall. Pretty late for the MLS combine’s leading scorer … Excluding Stefan Frei, Plata has been the most consistent performer in both the Canadian Cup and the four MLS matches he has appeared in. He played a part in each of the four goals TFC scored in the Edmonton series … Plata is the shortest player in the five major leagues. Listed at 5-foot-3 -— and that’s generous- ---— -Plata is dwarfed by the NBA’s Earl Boykins (5-foot-5) and MLB small man David Eckstein (5-foot-6). With MLS billed as a fast and physical league, Plata’s size kept a majority of MLS clubs away.

 

BIG AND PHYSICAL 

Houston returns to BMO Field sporting one of the league’s best sides. A big and physical club, Houston is dangerous off set pieces while looking to play direct and get balls into the penalty area. 

Like TFC, Houston comes in following a mid-week match against the defending MLS Cup champions — a game they thoroughly controlled until a moment of madness from their goalkeeper saw the away side steal three points. 

Saturday’s game will largely be won and lost in the midfield. TFC’s three central players have yet to solve being consistently outnumbered, although Mikael Yourassowksy seemed comfortable Wednesday and Tony Tchani is eligible following a red card suspension. 

Houston sports one of the most dynamic midfields in the league but may be without the services of Geoff Cameron, whose status is unknown after he was a late scratch Wednesday against the Rapids. The towering utility man passed a fitness test prior to that game but was held out ahead of the team’s trip to Toronto. 

It’s crucial TFC avoids giving up a heavy load of set pieces to a team that’s extremely talented in the air. Houston brings its trees forward looking to take advantage any time they can float a ball into the area. The Dynamo’s Brad Davis has six assists through eight games this season, most of them coming off set pieces in the final third.

With so many aerial weapons, Toronto must challenge every ball floated into the box and stay tight to players — something they failed to do multiple times against F.C. Edmonton. 

It remains to be seen if Winter will change things in an effort to prevent yet another slow start. If TFC can play positive early, keep possession and dictate tempo, they should enjoy success. 

If they come out and transition into the aerial game they played in Seattle, the Dynamo will control things, out-muscle the much smaller side and steal points from a side desperate for a win at home. 

 

PARTING THOUGHTS 

MLS teams are 0-9-11 when travelling across three time zones. Sure, Houston sits a single zone away, but the distance travelled is similar … How about that ridiculous penalty kick call Montreal needed to send its semifinal with Vancouver into OT? David Gantar, the official that comically sent off Tchani against the Crew, came close to blowing his second game in as many weeks … Passage to the Cup final complicated Toronto’s brutal stretch even more. The Reds will now play 11 times over the course of five weeks. We’re about to see just how deep TFC really are. 

 

kurtis.larson 

Twitter: KurtLarSUN 

 


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