Toronto FC confidence soars

Defender Darren O'Dea celebrates after scoring a goal for Ireland against Andorra during a Euro...

Defender Darren O'Dea celebrates after scoring a goal for Ireland against Andorra during a Euro 2012 qualifying game last year. O'Dea, 25, has been signed by Toronto FC. (ALBERT GEA/Reuters)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:04 AM ET

The CONCACAF Champions League laugher on Wednesday was an indicator for Toronto FC head coach Paul Mariner.

“Eight weeks ago we were (1-9-0) and now we (beat) a Salvadoran team that was very, very successful (domestically),” Mariner said. “We beat (Aguila) 5-1 so I like to think we’re progressing.”

Entering their midweek Cup fixture following a massive letdown against the visiting Houston Dynamo four days before, the Reds made it clear their Champions League opener would serve as an opportunity to get back on track after stringing a number of good results together through July.

“It’s always a massive confidence-builder for any team and any individual,” Mariner said of his side’s Champions League win. “The goal we gave up was unfortunate … but on the whole I was delighted with everyone.”

The Englishman went on to reiterate his belief that TFC’s Cup result was a performance the Reds can build on, one that has prepared them for tonight’s trip to Toyota Park, where the Chicago Fire rarely drops points.

In late April, the Fire escaped BMO Field with a 3-2 win, dropping then head coach Aron Winter’s record to a depressing 0-6-0 two months into the season. Looking back, it didn’t help that Ghanaian burner Dominic Oduro finished off a Torsten Frings howler 25 seconds into the match that afternoon.

“It’s just natural, blazing speed,” said Mariner, when reminded of the problems the Fire’s front four gave TFC earlier this season. “Oduro is probably as quick as anybody in the league and his finishing has improved greatly … (Patrick) Nyarko is the same and has developed very, very well under (Chicago head coach) Frank Klopas.”

Other than the obvious advantage of playing on a full week’s rest, Klopas will have freshly acquired Uruguayan Designated Player Alvaro Fernandez at his disposal. The former Seattle Sounder joined Chicago last week and always seems to cause Toronto problems with his ability to take players off the dribble before providing pinpoint service.

With newly acquired central defender Darren O’Dea awaiting receipt of his transfer papers, Mariner will once again call upon a hot and cold back four whose inexperience could see a repeat of the disaster against Houston last Saturday.

“They play in sort of a 4-2-3-1with Oduro really high, (Marco) Pappa wide on the left and possibly Nyarko on the right,” Mariner said of Chicago.

“(Sebastian) Grazzini’s underneath. And (Logan) Pause and (Pavel) Pardo sort of sit in front of the back four. A lot of teams in the league are going to this formation. But, again, it’s all about what we do — us imposing our system on them.”

Thirteen points shy of Chicago — which currently occupies the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference — with 13 games to go, TFC’s minuscule playoff hopes hinge on its next two matches, both against teams clawing for position in the East.

While back-to-back wins against Chicago and Columbus will keep TFC’s slim post-season hopes alive, anything less will make a return to respectability that much more difficult.

NO-NONSENSE

Toronto FC announced Friday it signed defender Darren O’Dea, an Irish international who last suited up for Leeds United on loan from Glasgow Celtic.

As first reported by the Sun Thursday, TFC agreed to terms with the 25-year-old after a deal to bring Swedish international Olof Mellberg to BMO Field fell through last month.

“We locked up … a guy with international experience, a leader, a competitor,” team executive Earl Cochrane told the Sun earlier this week.

Prior to Friday’s announcement, Mariner said supporters would be happy with the deal — one he hopes will help shore up TFC’s fledgling back four long-term.

“Darren addresses our need for an experienced, no-nonsense central defender,” Mariner said. “Darren has great leadership abilities and his experience both for club and country will be a welcomed addition.”

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound centre back will be available to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League and MLS upon receipt of this international transfer certificate.


TORONTO FC AT CHICAGO

Sat. Aug. 4, 2012, 8:30 p.m., GOL TV

MARQUEE MATCHUP

After returning to the Chicago Fire from Danish side Aalborg in April, Rolfe is beginning to show flashes of the player who left the Windy City after scoring 36 times from 2005 to 2009. Known for his ability to find the gaps and combine in the final third, the undersized attacker is far from physical and could wilt under the hard — sometimes reckless — play of Eckersley. Rolfe scored a beauty in San Jose last week and appears to be finding form just in time for the Fire to make its final push towards the playoffs.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Chicago’s Sherjill MacDonald is a young Designated Player who made his first MLS appearance as a substitute last week in San Jose. On close to $500,000 a season after coming over from the Belgian first division this summer, all eyes will be on a signing of which league pundits continue to be skeptical.

TFC KEYS

LIMIT SET-PIECES: Marco Pappa is deadly from anywhere inside 25 metres and has punished the Reds on multiple restarts throughout his career. The ability to limit careless fouls around the penalty area could provide a make-or-break scenario.

DEFEND IN PAIRS: Against a club that utilizes its pace on the flanks, TFC’s defence can’t get caught in isolation. In every defensive situation, the Reds need to have cover if they’re to get something from this game.


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