July 17, 2012
TFC nearly in the playoff picture
By KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency
TORONTO - The word “playoffs” has increasingly become a banned term around BMO Field — and likely will be for at least a few more weeks.
But after quietly picking up 13 points in just over a month following former head coach Aron Winter’s removal, consecutive wins will see Toronto FC in the playoff picture for the first time this season.
“In adversity your togetherness … carries you through,” head coach Paul Mariner said of the Reds, who enter tonight’s match against the visiting Colorado Rapids 12 points behind the Houston Dynamo for the final playoff spot in the East. “We’ll roll our sleeves up again.”
Sleeves or no sleeves, if Mariner can’t find a way to replace Danny Koevermans — the Dutchman has had a hand in exactly 50% of TFC’s league goals in 2012 — Toronto’s run of summer form will swiftly regress to the frigid days of Winter.
It was announced Monday that Koevermans will miss the remainder of 2012 after tearing an ACL in a win over the New England Revolution on the weekend.
“Everyone can see what (Danny) has been doing for the team,” Mariner said of Koevermans’ season-ending knee injury. “I’m not going to say we’re not devastated about it … (Colorado) is going to be another difficult test for us.”
After beginning the regular season with a league-record nine losses the Reds have stormed back with points in seven of their past eight games, picking up 48% of available points since Mariner took over last month.
Should Toronto secure maximum points against the Rapids, a mid-table team that continues to struggle in the much-stronger Western Conference, a six-point match against the Houston Dynamo looms large next Saturday.
It’s a giant leap with its leading scorer sidelined, but consecutive home wins to end July could see Toronto as little as six points out of the final playoff spot with three months remaining.
“Somebody’s going to have to pick up the gauntlet,” said Mariner, when asked how the club plans to replace its target man. “We’re working diligently behind the scenes … We’re trying to do some things but decent strikers don’t grow on trees in world football, nevermind in MLS.
LIFE AFTER KOEVERMANS
Although the club’s newest addition, Andrew Wiedeman, was a one-for-one swap with Koevermans in New England on Saturday, the 22-year-old isn’t match fit. But with the big man out, Mariner has a few options at his disposal, which will mean a shakeup to how the Reds go forward.
“We’re a little thin (up top),” Mariner said. “Fortunately, Luis (Silva) … is scoring goals.
“Somebody else will step in and somebody else will do a great job.”
After watching Silva bag his first and second MLS goals against Vancouver and New England last week, the club’s first-overall draft pick will likely move in from his wide position to play beneath Johnson as an advanced midfielder in a 4-5-1. The switch could see Eric Avila move to the left side of midfield, a spot where he looked bright early in the season.
“I’m going to try and step in there and play a different role,” Silva said. “Obviously I’ve been playing in different positions. It really doesn’t matter at this point as long as I get to help the team.”
As soon as Jeremy Hall recovers from a hamstring issue that kept him out of Saturday’s match, with Doneil Henry proving capable of containing MLS-calibre attackers at the back, the club’s utility man could feature as a flanker when needed — a third option for Mariner that could see Hall and Avila rotate depending on match plots.
KICKOFF – Colorado @ TFC – 7 p.m. SN1
Ryan Johnson vs. Marvel Wynne
Johnson assumed the unwanted role of having to replace the most pure goal-scorer in the Toronto FC’s short history. But with Koevermans out, Colorado defenders Wynne and Drew Moor will be able to key in on Johnson, Toronto’s only other threat in and around the goal mouth and in the air. As Wynne, a former standout with the Reds, won’t shy away from Johnson’s physicality, two players that rely on power and speed could produce fireworks tonight at BMO Field.
WHO STEPS UP?: The first name out of Mariner’s mouth following Koevermans’ injury: Luis Silva. But the Reds will welcome goals from anywhere following the Dutchman’s injury. All things considered, it’s never a good sign when your goal-scoring hopes fall to a draft pick.
FIND THE GAPS: Colorado’s back four is as average as they come in MLS. In a 2-1 loss to Dallas on the weekend, the Rapids had trouble picking up midfield runners in-between their central and outside backs. I’m looking at you Reggie Lambe.
BACK-TO-BACK: How improved is Toronto’s back four under Mariner? Producing back-to-back MLS shutouts for the first time in 2012 would go a long way in clawing back before the all-star break.
Toronto holds the edge in the all-time series, collecting a 6-3-1 record since 2007 … The Rapids enter tonight’s fixture having never beaten the Reds at BMO Field, their previous visit coming last September when TFC walked away with a 2-1 win … Ryan Johnson, Ashtone Morgan and Torsten Frings are a caution away from yellow card suspension.