Almost 'must-win' time for Toronto FC

Columbus Crew forward Eric Gehrig (L) and his teammates celebrate their win around Toronto FC...

Columbus Crew forward Eric Gehrig (L) and his teammates celebrate their win around Toronto FC players Eric Avila and Danny Koevermans (sitting) during the second half of their MLS soccer match in Toronto March 31, 2012. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

Kurtis Larson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:45 PM ET

MONTREAL - You’d think head coaches Jesse Marsch and Aron Winter weren’t managing bottom-feeding clubs that have combined to earn just a single point ahead of Saturday’s all-Canadian MLS match in Montreal.

“The group is stronger than ever,” Marsch said of his side’s first MLS meeting with TFC. “The belief in what we’re about is at a high level. It’s hard because all the good work hasn’t added up.”

Despite dropping four of its past five games, including a 6-2 drubbing in the Champions League semifinals Wednesday, Toronto’s bench boss remains reasonably happy with his side’s early-season form.

“The strange thing is that (we) are playing well, but we’ve got zero points in the league,” Winter said. “If you watch how we have given most of the games away, it’s not good.”

While a series of mistakes gifted Columbus three points last Saturday, conceding two second-half penalties this week extinguished the club’s chances at progression to the CONCACAF final — mistakes the club must eliminate if it’s to start picking up points.

In a similar position searching for its first league win in 2012, the Impact dropped its third consecutive away match when an early penalty held up in Salt Lake on Wednesday night.

Although it was offered up, neither manager accepted the most dreaded phrase in sports inside Olympic Stadium on Friday.

“You have to be smart about how you talk about must-wins,” Marsch said. “You have to look at a season and understand that there are lots of different moments that we go through that are difficult.”

Heading into this afternoon’s derby, Winter wouldn’t say whether he’d alter things at the back after mistakes from centre back Miguel Aceval hand-wrapped Wednesday’s second leg for Santos Laguna, but Friday’s training pointed to Canadian youth international Doneil Henry potentially starting next to Ty Harden.

With management confirming Friday it’s unlikely Adrian Cann will earn his first start since returning from knee injury, Henry was with the first team during pre-match training after impressing staff during last week’s Olympic qualifiers.

“All the international experience was really good,” Henry said. “You learn a lot playing with the best players in your country. It was great and I’m ready to excel here.”

Expect Montreal to look to take advantage of an unravelling Toronto back four that has conceded 17 goals through seven games this season, including seven in three MLS matches this season. During Friday’s training, the Impact worked on its defensive shape and urgency without the ball.

The home side will likely put TFC’s unproven back four under constant pressure from start to finish in hopes it will cough up the same opportunities it provided opponents last month.

“We’re going to make sure to be aggressive,” Marsch said, when asked if he thinks his club has the weapons to punish what has been a nervy Toronto defence. “We certainly feel like with our attacking options that we can cause their back line and their team trouble. That has been talked about and is an emphasis.”

Now considered to be TFC’s month of reckoning, while its next three fixtures are winnable, Toronto must claim three points from at least one of its coming matches today in Montreal or in back-to-back home dates with Chivas and Chicago.

As a result, a less than desirable outcome this afternoon and Winter might be forced to use the dreaded phrase he has been avoiding for quite some time now: Must-win.

“We know what (Montreal’s) weaknesses are and what their strengths are,” Winter said. “We have to go on with the way we are playing. I’m looking forward to it. We came here to get a very good result.”

KICKOFF

MARQUEE MATCHUP

Nick Soolsma vs. Tyson Wahl

Toronto’s right-sided attacker was one of the bright spots in Torreon this week, providing dangerous service and the neat through-ball to Joao Plata that saw TFC take back a first-half lead against Santos. In a matchup he has the talent to win, Soolsma must do to Montreal’s left back what he did at the Estadio Coruna on Wednesday night. Cutting in from the right, as long as Toronto’s defence holds up, his ability to provide quality service could be the difference for a second match in a row.

 

TFC KEYS

THE LITTLE THINGS — The Reds played even with one of the best clubs in Mexico for more than three halves earlier this week. That said, what separates good clubs from great clubs is the ability to consistently complete the smallest of defensive tasks to perfection each time out. Toronto can no longer afford to concede so cheaply if it hopes to climb the MLS standings.

PAGING DANNY — Danny Koevermans must find the touch of class the club has needed ever since Ryan Johnson’s MLS Goal of the Week in Seattle. Koevermans had countless opportunities during the club’s last league match against Columbus and should have done better with a few opportunities during the first leg with Santos Laguna. The Reds simply can’t survive much longer with their high-priced striker coming up empty.

 

QUICK HITS

n Montreal has never taken three points from Toronto in six meetings. The Reds own a 5-0-1 record against the Quebecers, including three away wins in the Canadian Championship.

n The Reds and Impact have conceded a combined six penalties over the last two weeks — more than most clubs allow in an entire season.

n The last team to make the MLS post-season following a 0-3-0 start was D.C. United in 2007. Should Toronto lose another, it will inch dangerously close to 0-5-0 — a record no club has recovered from to make the playoffs.

 


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