TORONTO - Toronto FC’s lacklustre start could go from club-worst to worst all-time in Salt Lake City Saturday night, where RSL has lost just five of its last 51 league games dating back to 2009.
“We are playing against a very good team that tied Dallas (midweek) and were better,” head coach Aron Winter said. “Still, we’re going there to get a good result — at least a point.”
Announcing Thursday captain Torsten Frings will likely start in the spot where he ended last weekend’s loss to Chicago, expect Winter to make back-to-front changes in an effort to fight off matching Kansas City’s league-worst 0-7-0 start in 1999.
With a number of injuries and illnesses continuing to pillage a side that’s yet to enter an MLS fixture with a full roster, pre-match training saw Logan Emory playing next to Adrian Cann in the heart of defence this week, just behind a midfield trio of Terry Dunfield, Julian de Guzman and Frings.
After an ejection in Montreal, and a brief bout with the flu, saw Emory miss the last two weeks, with Frings advancing into midfield, the former Puerto Rican Islander should get another look in the centre of defence.
“In soccer you don’t always get a second chance,” Emory said, when reminded of the costly gaffes in each of his first two starts since joining TFC. “It’s definitely something I need to take advantage of … I’m going to give my everything and make sure I do all I can to earn a spot moving forward.”
Leading up to Saturday’s match, Winter had Eric Avila situated on the left side of the training pitch instead of Joao Plata — a move that opens space for de Guzman to earn his first start since being relegated to the bench following a forgettable outing in Montreal.
“It’s a positive thing going into this game,” de Guzman said of what could be the beginning of a midfield partnership with Frings. “It will give Salt Lake a hard time to penetrate.”
The same can be said at the opposite end, where Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers — arguably the best centre back tandem in the league — are set to do battle with Ryan Johnson in the absence of Danny Koevermans.
The Jamaican hasn’t scored since opening day in Seattle and has caught a string of bad luck, striking the post twice and having multiple efforts cleared off the line.
“It’s tough, man,” Ryan Johnson said of Salt Lake’s towering centre halfs. “I’ve been battling those guys for years and it’s never easy.
“I know what to expect — late tackles and coming in hard on my back. I’m just going to prepare myself, be ready for it and know it’s going to be a physical battle.”
Under Winter, the Reds have secured maximum league points only once away from BMO Field in 19 tries. And after dropping four consecutive home dates to start 2012, league points will eventually have to come on the road.
Likely starting with three defensive midfielders in an effort to stymie a Salt Lake side that’s capable of scoring in bunches, expect Toronto to play a similar game to the one that managed an historic 2-1 win at L.A. in the Champions League quarterfinals last month.
“We have to play more compact,” Winter said ahead of what he readily admitted was a big task for the struggling Reds. “We’re going to Salt Lake with a lot of confidence.”
When asked about the repercussions of Toronto potentially becoming just the second club to start an MLS campaign with seven defeats, Toronto’s bench boss said it hasn’t entered his mind.
“I don’t (think about it),” Winter replied. “We are going to Salt Lake to get (points).”
TFC at SALT LAKE KICKOFF
9 p.m., Rio Tinto Stadium
Will Johnson vs. Julian de Guzman
Two of Canada’s midfield prospects collide in what’s shaping up to be an interesting battle next to Torsten Frings and RSL’s Kyle Beckerman. Johnson’s up-tempo, box-to-box game often clashes with de Guzman’s methodical approach when the duo pairs for Canada. If TFC’s defence can finally negate the mistakes that have cost the club in April, expect this match to be won or lost in the middle of the park, where two Canadians — along with two of the best midfielders in MLS — are set to go toe-to-toe. Are you watching Stephen Hart?
The Reds have dropped points in consecutive matches due to lax marking on set pieces. Chivas’ Oswaldo Minda bagged his winner from a corner while Chicago’s Gonzalo Segares scored on a restart last Saturday. Salt Lake’s centre backs are absolute trees and will get good looks if the Reds fail to body-up.
Will the experiment work? Based on Thursday’s training, head coach Aron Winter will use an in-form Eric Avila on the wings. While the experiment failed on opening night in Seattle, Avila has looked bright since then, performing well in multiple short cameos since last month. Avila will need to adjust his game and find the seams in order to free up space for himself and others.
Toronto simply must stop conceding bad goals. Of the seven league goals the club has conceded through the last four games, all have been off defensive gaffes or punishing turnovers in the middle third.
The club confirmed Luis Silva will miss the match after sitting out multiple training sessions with the flu … Winter confirmed Thursday Danny Koevermans will miss his second straight match with a groin injury and Nick Soolsma didn’t travel due to hamstring tightness. Both could be back as early as next week.