Columbus Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum (L) makes a save behind teammate Eric Gehrig (yellow) and Toronto FC forward Danny Koevermans during the second half of their MLS soccer match in Toronto March 31, 2012. (Reuters/MIKE CASSESE)
TORONTO - It’s a role the Reds know quite well.
One they seem to assign themselves every summer.
With the playoffs now a distant dream, TFC will look to accomplish what it did last year when it walked all over its Ohio rivals at Crew Stadium, playing a big part in forcing Columbus into last year’s post-season play-in round — a one-off match that saw it knocked out in Colorado.
Set to once again make their final playoff push, with the help of a few late additions, the Crew will look to inch closer to a post-season berth while attempting to bury the rival it shut out at BMO Field in March.
Acquiring the services of Costa Rican international Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain — the younger brother of Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain — midway through the season, Columbus is substantially more dangerous than the side that was lucky to escape Toronto with a 1-0 win earlier in the season.
Coupled with the power of Venezuelan forward Emilio Renteria, as demonstrated in a 2-2 draw in Houston on the weekend, Columbus no longer plays the boring brand that once made it impossible to watch.
While all eyes in Columbus will on the Crew’s recently employed Latin flair, Paul Mariner continues to build towards next season, most notably through newly signed centre back Darren O’Dea.
After signing the Irish international two weeks ago, Toronto’s bench boss gave the club’s newest addition rave reviews following a standout performance in a loss to Kansas City on the weekend.
But after struggling to go the distance Saturday at BMO Field, there are questions as to whether O’Dea, and the rest of the Reds, are fit enough to meet the demands of a difficult stretch that will see Toronto travel to Houston on Saturday before a massive Champions League match against Santos Laguna Tuesday at BMO Field.
For TFC, it’s an all too familiar dilemma.
Does Mariner continue to chase meaningless MLS results or rest up for Champions League play?
It can’t be both.
That’s one way to ease the pain.
Days after it was announced Doneil Henry would undergo an MRI due to a knee injury he sustained Saturday, Toronto announced Tuesday it inked the club’s first homegrown signing to an extension.
“This is another positive step for our club, signing another promising young defender,” said head coach Paul Mariner, referring to the fact TFC locked up Canadian international Ashtone Morgan, 21, for additional years last month.
A player Mariner has said “could go all the way,” Henry joins Morgan while a host of additional academy products — Keith Makubuya, Oscar Cordon and Matt Stinson — are in jeopardy of not seeing their deals extended.
Henry earned his first cap for the full Canadian national team last week in a 2-0 exhibition win over Trinidad and Tobago.
WILD WEEK FOR REFS
Refereeing is bad across the globe — just not this bad.
As fans at BMO Field were confused by a rescinded red card over the weekend, a pair of MLS officials put in two of the most memorable performances in recent memory on Sunday.
During the late stages of the Philadelphia Union-D.C. United match, referee Mike Geiger produced four yellow cards, three red cards — two of which were straight — and called back a Dwayne De Rosario penalty all after the 90th minute.
A soft call to begin with, a normally automatic De Rosario missed the retake, which saw the match end 1-1 at DC’s RFK Stadium.
“It was his show tonight,” D.C. head coach Ben Olsen told DCist.com. “It (wasn’t) about the players.”
A short jaunt up Interstate-95, referee Jasen Anno had his own issues at Red Bull Arena.
With the Red Bulls trailing the Portland Timbers 2-1 in the first half, Anno whistled for a hand ball in the box only to play advantage when New York’s Tim Cahill scored on the play. With Timbers players chasing him across the pitch, Anno allowed the goal to stand.
The Red Bulls would go on to win the controversial match 3-2.
“We’re not allowed to comment on the referee’s performance, but that
second goal summed it up,” Timbers interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson told the Timbers official site. “We can’t get an answer.”
Just like many TFC fans on Saturday, who couldn’t believe it when Quincy Amerikwa was allowed to stay on the pitch after appearing to receive his marching orders.
Amerikwa told reporters following the match that referee Jorge Gonzalez rescinded his ejection after he explained his foul language was directed at a player, not him.
THIS AND THAT
Major League Soccer is the eighth best attended soccer league in the world, according to ESPN. Averaging 18,828 fans per game in 2012, MLS sits behind the Chinese Super League (7th) and just ahead of French Ligue 1 (9th) … The Colorado Rapids signed Premier League veteran Hendry Thomas on Tuesday. The Honduran midfielder last played for Wigan and featured at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa … FC Dallas announced it signed Argentine forward Matias Jara this week. The 25-year-old attacker last played in the Argentine second division with club Guillermo Brown.