Reds face tough decisions in must-win match

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:55 PM ET

TORONTO - Saturday’s shellacking was concerning for multiple reasons — none of which reference the final score.

“We were a little bit flat,” head coach Aron Winter said. “I think the problem is the last (few) weeks … all the travel.”

And the games.

“We don’t have a big roster,” he added after the 3-0 loss to Chivas.

Making the decision to play Danny Koevermans and Ryan Johnson deep into the second half was a mysterious one. Especially before a critical Champions League date with Pumas tonight at BMO Field.

“We have to be focused,” Winter said. “For us, (Champions League) is a very important league where we must go further and survive.”

But with key figures like Torsten Frings and Terry Dunfield set to miss tonight’s match, it’s puzzling that Winter would push such an influential trio to such an extreme.

Toronto’s pint-sized playoff hopes didn’t warrant playing an exhausted Koevermans for more than a half hour while Johnson shouldn’t have started the match.

Similarly, the decision to run out Julian de Guzman was debatable with Dunfield ready and capable of replacing him in the lineup. The change would have given de Guzman meaningful rest ahead of a match that will demand a 90-minute performance of him.

Keeping in mind the club knew it would be without Frings, Dunfield, Mikael Yourassowsky and Eric Avila — who remains cup-tied to FC Dallas — in the midfield tonight, an argument can be made that de Guzman shouldn’t even have travelled.

With more than enough resources to compete in what became a throw-away game, Winter’s questionable lineup will be under the microscope should the Reds under-perform tonight.

AROUND THE PITCH

As for other under-performances, a 3-1 loss to Seattle officially eliminated the Vancouver Whitecaps from the playoff contention … The Reds aren’t that far behind following a sobering defeat Saturday night … But with teams so tight at the top of the Eastern Conference, it could be a while. The East’s top six teams are within four points of one another … The same can’t be said for the West where the LA Galaxy are a win away from locking up a second-straight Supporters’ Shield. A win over Salt Lake this weekend should do it … Under the league’s current format, only one Shield winner has gone on to lift the MLS Cup … If RSL is to put off Galaxy celebrations for another week, they’ll have to put in a better performance than the one that saw them fall 4-1 in DC.

DERO MAKING A CASE

For the third time in eight weeks, MLS honoured Dwayne De Rosario as the league’s top performer … An unprecedented performance saw him score three times and add an assist Saturday against RSL … The showing puts De Rosario in the driver’s seat to win his first MLS MVP award after passing Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan for the league lead in goals … Beyond his 13 goals and 11 assists for three different clubs in 2011, De Rosario has lifted United into the post-season picture for the first time since 2007 … With games in hand, he has the Black and Red a point back of the final playoff spot.

PUMAS SEEKING REST?

Needing a draw to ensure they control their own destiny on Match Day 6, the Reds enter tonight’s match with question marks in midfield and across the back four.

Winter will have to fill a void in the absence of three of TFC’s top four midfielders while organizing a defence with the difficult task of cancelling an explosive Pumas offence.

With Frings out of the picture and out of his role as the club’s “roaming” defender, the Dutchman must decide whether to maintain what has essentially become a back five or set up a traditional 4-3-3 with a pair of attacking midfielders alongside de Guzman.

The Dutchman’s second, and less likely, option is replacing Frings with a fifth defender — something we could see in the second half if the Reds manage to grab a lead.

While a loss puts TFC in jeopardy of being eliminated before the knockout phase for a third consecutive time, reports out of Mexico may assist Winter in adjusting his lineup.

Pumas coach Guillermo Vazquez appears to be looking ahead to a massive domestic tilt rather than tonight’s Champions League match.

“Now we have to go to Canada and look to rest some players and those who are on the bench,” Vazquez told Mediotiempo.com following his club’s 2-1 win over Tecos on Saturday.

“It is difficult … but the group is responding well.”

As tonight’s visitors fancy their chances of beating Tauro on Match Day 6, Pumas is set to rest a number of first-team players before a big Mexican league fixture with Club America.

The possibility of facing a watered down Mexican side bodes well for club who will be missing big players of its own.

Still, Pumas’ boss conveyed similar statements before a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of what became a first team lineup for the Mexicans earlier this month.

Undermanned and coming off a poor performance, the Reds can only hope Vazquez stays true to his words this time.


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