TFC's Irish international, O'Dea, set for KC debut

Irish international Darren O'Dea (right) challenges Serbia's Dusan Tadic during their friendly in...

Irish international Darren O'Dea (right) challenges Serbia's Dusan Tadic during their friendly in Belgrade on Wednesday. Toronto's newest centre back is set to debut Saturday afternoon at BMO Field against Kansas City. (REUTERS)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 6:50 PM ET

TORONTO - Paul Mariner wrapped up Friday's training with a slew of set pieces.

It was all he could do after watching his side concede Wednesday in familiar fashion.

"I've been racking my brain," TFC's head coach said of a midweek draw with the Portland Timbers, a match that saw the visitors open the scoring from a corner.

"Basically it's a desire on the players' parts," Mariner continued. "We've tried zoning, man-to-man marking -- It's just that desire."

The kind of desire Mariner hopes arrived back in Toronto Thursday from the Balkans.

Darren O'Dea will make his first start on short rest after starting for Ireland in its goalless draw in Serbia three days ago.

"You can set up in 20 different formations," O'Dea said of Toronto's defensive struggles. "At the end of the day you need to want to … put your head where it hurts. Certainly I'll do that and I'll make sure everyone else is doing that."

The Reds have conceded off set-piece headers in each of their last three matches, allowing two goals in each of those contests.

With the aerial prowess of Kansas City set to visit BMO Field, the Reds hope the insertion of a pair of big men -- Doneil Henry and O'Dea -- will help alleviate what has been TFC's biggest weakness all year.

"To me, they're almost a complete team," Mariner said of Sporting Kansas City, which currently occupies top spot in the Eastern Conference. "They're very powerful on set pieces. They send the kitchen sink and in open play they're very dangerous."

Employing Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara and C.J. Sapong up front, along with the Houston Dynamo, KC is a team that thrives on restarts.

With Honduran international Roger Espinoza and U.S. midfielder Graham Zusi usually pulling strings behind KC's front three, Sporting sports one of the most dynamic attacking setups in the league.

The Reds were thoroughly outclassed during Mariner's first match at the helm in June, falling 2-0 at Kansas City in a one-sided affair. Since then, Toronto has failed to pick up points in just three of 12 MLS matches -- something the Englishman hopes will instill a bit of confidence ahead of Saturday's match.

"We know that we can compete," Mariner said of facing a team that sits 23 points up in the standings. "We've learned a lot. I think we're a little bit more difficult to beat. Obviously our Achilles heel is set pieces. We want to try and get rid of that tag."

Expected to partner with Richard Eckersley in the centre of TFC's back four, Mariner told reporters Friday his Irish defender will impress.

"It's going to be an unbelievable battle," Mariner said of Kansas City. "(Darren) is beautiful for us back there. I think the fans are really going to take to (him)."

PARTING SHOT

Mariner doesn't speak about other clubs' players -- even if they take parting shots.

"(TFC is) still missing a bit of planning and direction," Julian de Guzman told Red Nation, an online magazine covering the Canadian national team. "I don't think everyone is on the same page and that's what leads to the results."

Given the chance to hit back at de Guzman's comments, his former coach held back.

"I've got nothing to say about Julian de Guzman," Mariner said. "He's a Dallas player and I don't speak about other peoples' players."

De Guzman's topsy-turvy tenure at BMO Field was littered with ridicule and rumours, some of which TFC's former Designated Player made light of after being traded to Dallas last month.

"Luckily I'm involved in a good setup where I can play football again," he said. "(TFC) had been trying to find ways to (move me). They've laid out offers for me just to walk -- something I could never accept no matter the amount."

KICKOFF

MARQUEE MATCHUP:

Teal Bunbury vs. Darren O'Dea

Boos will circulate BMO Field when Bunbury, a Canadian forward who snuffed his country to play for the U.S., is announced before the start of Saturday's match. On his debut, it's the perfect opportunity for O'Dea to step up and endear himself to fans. Although he reiterated Friday that he's not feeling the pressure, with impatience about to boil over at BMO Field, the Irishman must get off to a good start if he's to win over skeptical supporters.

TFC KEYS:

Set Pieces: As Mariner said, it's down to desire -- something O'Dea has promised to instill in the defenders around him.

Find Hassli's feet: While solid, KC's back four isn't full of size. As Eric Hassli's hold up play has been fantastic, finding the Frenchman in the gaps should allow TFC to build from the back.

TRAINING NOTES:

Although O'Dea went 90 minutes for Ireland in Belgrade, Serbia Wednesday, it was how he travelled that had Mariner fuming. "He was at the back of the bus, which I'm not happy about,” Mariner said. “They should have at least put him further up the plane … He's mentally very, very tough so he'll be fine" … Mariner confirmed Friday that Reggie Lambe will miss 2-3 weeks with an MCL sprain … Probable XI: Kocic, Morgan, O'Dea, Eckersley, Henry, Wiedeman, Dunfield, Frings, Johnson, Silva, Hassli.


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