It was late June when a hapless TFC hobbled away from Rio Tinto on the receiving end of a 3-1 thumping by Salt Lake.
Already dealing with the loss of Adrian Cann, the Reds were humbled all over the pitch while attempting to play through a paltry midfield that featured Dan Gargan, Nathan Sturgis and Gianluca Zavarise.
Academy product Doneil Henry was the whipping boy when his three gaffes gifted Alvaro Saborio a brace and RSL three points.
Throw it all away.
When Toronto hosts RSL tonight, head coach Aron Winter will likely produce a lineup consisting of nine different starters from the squad that travelled to Rio Tinto — something of which Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis is aware.
“(Toronto) is a team that is trending very positively,” Kreis told his club’s website. “Two road results in a row for Toronto, plus they advanced in the Champions League.”
Kreis leads his side into Toronto high on confidence after running over New York 3-0 last week — a surprising result due in large part because New York was fresh off a flight from England after drawing Arsenal in a friendly.
Still, for all the attention and accolades Salt Lake has garnered over the last three seasons, in addition to being winless in its last six on the road, the club has yet to secure maximum points in Toronto.
“(Toronto) presents a real good challenge for us away,” Kreis said. “We’ll go for the three points.”
They’ll have to do it despite a number of injuries and against a side that doesn’t resemble the club they dismantled in June.
Fuelled by a Danny Koevermans, Ryan Johnson and Torsten Frings, the Reds are beginning to threaten consistently. And with Winter handing Eric Avila the reigns in terms of play-making, TFC is no longer short on players who are comfortable and creative on the ball.
But beyond TFC’s offensive overhaul, the team’s defence is still as poor as the last time the clubs met. Simply replace Henry’s three blunders in June with Andy Iro’s massive mistakes against D.C. United last weekend and nothing has changed.
While supporters called for Iro’s head during the week, it’s unclear what adjustments Winter will make. Although the Dutchman has defensive options to speak of, it’s a sure bet one or more of Henry, Iro or Ty Harden will be in the picture.
Either way, all have yielded disastrous results and continue to be offered chances to regain their places within the club ahead of Champions League group play and next season.
IF YOU MISSED IT
As Salt Lake has failed to capture maximum points in five previous visits, if TFC can eradicate mindless defensive mistakes, an improved offence might find success against a somewhat weakened club … With perennial MLS best 11 attacker Javier Morales still recovering from an early-season ankle fracture, RSL should be without all-star defender Jamison Olave and the steady midfield work of Ned Grabavoy … As RSL deals with a host of key injuries, the team’s engine — Kyle Beckerman — rejoins his club after going 90 minutes for the U.S. against Mexico Wednesday in Philadelphia. Regarded as the most hard-working midfielder in MLS, how much will Kreis push Beckerman before a busy schedule? … TFC had its own international absences to deal with. After earning a call from Jamaica for a friendly in China, Ryan Johnson turned down the mid-week Asian trip and should be fresh heading into the match … While many Reds are healthy and rested after a rare week off, Stefan Frei could miss tonight’s match. Toronto’s first-choice ’keeper missed yesterday’s training with a lower-body injury.
OFF THE PITCH
The league is on pace to boast its highest average attendance figures since 1996. According to league figures, average attendance sits at 17,336, with a 17,050 median. A brief comparison shows the 2010 average ending at 16,501 with a 14,389 median … Although it doesn’t need repeating, no one should question the league’s ability to determine expansion cities that have taken MLS to new heights within the region … One of those expansion cities, Philadelphia, announced yesterday the signing of U.S. international Freddy Adu. After numerous failing attempts to gain traction in Europe, Adu’s agent said the 22-year-old is available this weekend … It turns out record interest hasn’t gone unnoticed. The league reached a three-year agreement with NBC this week to feature 45 MLS matches beginning in 2012. Furthermore, league sources confirm MLS has attracted its largest number of corporate sponsors to date.
Take a look back at TFC’s 3-1 defeat at Salt Lake and the improvements are noticeable.
But for every offensive inspiration the Reds have dealt for, TFC’s defence has yet to put in a performance worthy of granting TFC’s newest talent a chance at producing MLS wins.
And with the league trade deadline looming large, it looks like Winter will stay the course in trying to craft the worst MLS defence into a unit that, at the very least, limits the defensive lapses that have cost the club dearly in 2011.