TORONTO - Head coach Aron Winter travels to Chivas stuck between two minds.
“I’m not thinking about the (Champions League),” Winter said. “I’m not going to look two and three games forward — always the next game that you’re going to have, and that’s Chivas.”
Playing at Chivas — a fixture the Reds have never secured a point in — on short rest, the Dutchman has decisions to make ahead of Toronto’s fourth-to-last MLS match of the season.
Although a draw or loss at the Home Depot Centre ends TFC’s MLS playoff push for a fifth consecutive year, Toronto’s Champions League win over Tauro this week set up a massive date with Pumas at BMO Field on Tuesday.
And with the Reds potentially needing at least a point against the Mexicans to stay alive in CONCACAF’s Group C, Winter might elect to rest or replace certain pieces at some point during the match to save legs before next week.
“We’re going to try to survive (in CONCACAF) and play what’s left of the league well,” Winter said. “We can start next season from the beginning.”
Aimed at TFC’s horrendous start, his comments draw attention to the club’s recent domestic record — results that have seen Toronto collect 10 points from a possible 15 while emerging as a long shot to earn the club’s first playoff birth.
And if the Reds hope to maintain that momentum, changes need to be made.
Winter’s 1-4-2-3 system worked against Tauro, but needs to be adjusted ahead of tonight’s match in L.A. Chivas will have more to offer in the final third and the Reds won’t be able to sit back for the better party of 70 minutes as they did Tuesday.
Switching back to a 4-3-3 — with Torsten Frings moving back into midfield and presenting himself across the pitch — will be key against a club the Reds should play straight up.
Looking beyond tonight’s result, even if Toronto wins each of its four remaining MLS matches, the club needs numerous other results to go its way. As a number of clubs vying for the league’s remaining playoff slots have games in hand, nothing short of a miracle will save TFC’s domestic campaign.
But as Toronto’s MLS campaign ends, another competition continues. With the Reds set to host Pumas in three days, Winter must be wise in his selection.
The Dutchman has the option of naming a balanced squad that’s capable of competing tonight while not risking over-exertion ahead of a much more important Champions League match in a few days time.
With the club confirming yesterday the yellow card suspensions of Mikael Yourassowsky, Terry Dunfield and Frings for the Pumas match, expect the latter pairing to be heavily involved against Chivas.
That scenario could see de Guzman dropped to the bench in preparation for Tuesday while Toronto’s ineligible players carry a majority of the responsibility tonight.
Similarly, Danny Koevermans should see no more than a half in what is essentially a meaningless match the club will look over when reviewing the season.
While Winter has been unwavering in his commitment to name a first-choice side in all of Toronto’s matches this season, suspension scenarios will force him to use an undesirable combination of players at the worst time.
Although a number of results and situations will see the Reds into the knockout phase of the CONCACAF Champions League next month, one scenario eliminates the club on match-day five.
If the Reds fall to Pumas and Dallas takes three points in Panama next week, the Mexicans and Texans will qualify for the competition’s quarterfinals.
Toronto needs at least a draw next Tuesday to assure the club’s final Champions League match will be meaningful on Oct. 18 in Dallas.