Bad things happen when Toronto FC hooks up with the Houston Dynamo — and they seem to come in threes.
After having a trio of players — Luis Silva, Miguel Aceval and Nick Soolsma — hauled away from a Houston nightclub in handcuffs the last time Toronto travelled to south Texas, the Reds wilted to the league’s hottest team, allowing the home side to fight back from a 3-1 halftime hole before a 3-3 finish in June.
“We can’t play 45 minutes of soccer in MLS,” head coach Paul Mariner said before tonight’s match against the Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium. “You’ve got to play 90-plus. We were guilty of that against Houston.”
The Reds were outclassed three weeks ago before the Dynamo departed BMO Field with a 2-0 win — their first win in Toronto in franchise history.
It was also the start of TFC’s most disappointing run since dropping nine straight to start the season. After falling 2-1 in Columbus on Wednesday night, the Reds are winless in their past five league matches dating back to July.
But it’s not from a lack of incentive.
“The motivation is where we are in the league,” said Mariner, when asked if Toronto will use past results against Houston to get up for the game. “The worst thing in the world for me is getting beat. I don’t get over it. It stays with me for days.”
Looking down the line, those days could turn into weeks for a manager whose side hasn’t moved above bottom spot in MLS this season.
Following tonight’s match, the Reds host Mexican giants Santos Laguna in a near must-win Champions League tilt on Tuesday. Toronto then travels to Livestrong Sporting Park to face East-leading Sporting Kansas City, a side they underperformed against in a 1-0 loss at BMO Field last week.
The one bright spot this month has been the improved play of Toronto’s back four following the insertion of Irish international Darren O’Dea. While the Reds have conceded three goals in two losses — at home to Kansas City and away to Columbus — with Mariner’s newest bossman patrolling the back line, two of the goals came as a result of unfortunate deflections.
“We’re going there confident in our ability,” said Richard Eckersley, who said he’s comfortable with the changes to Toronto’s defence. “(Houston is) a great team. They’re well organized, they’ve got some big lads in the team and some technically gifted players.”
They also rarely lose at home, if ever. The all orange have yet to lose at their new venue and are in the midst of a home unbeaten run that reached 20 games last week, the third longest in MLS history.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Houston’s Brad Davis told his club’s official site. “You look at every game as a fresh and clean sheet and that’s what we’re attacking this game as.”
With what has to be considered a more important Cup match in three day’s time, we’ll see if Mariner, and the Reds, approach things the same way.
THE TFC THREE
A story the Toronto Sun first broke in June, Silva, Aceval and Soolsma were taken into custody the last time the Reds visited Houston outside Club Escobar for what officers called an early-morning drunken altercation at the time.
“Our officers tried to disperse the fight at which time (the TFC players) refused to leave,” a Houston Police spokesperson said. “(They) began to have verbal altercations with the officers.”
The TFC three were bailed out early the next morning by Julian de Guzman and didn’t dress for the match that night.
Soolsma and Aceval have since been released while Silva continues to enjoy a solid rookie season after scoring in Wednesday’s loss to the Crew.
LARSON KICKOFF – TFC @ HOUSTON – BBVA COMPASS STADIUM – TSN 830ET
Eric Hassli vs. Bobby Boswell
Hassli crumbled under the repeated pressure of Chad Marshall’s big body in Columbus midweek. And things won’t get any easier against one of the most towering back fours in the league tonight. Led by Boswell in the centre of defence, Hassli will have to be willing to fight through a beating if the Reds are to break through in Houston. With Canadian international Andre Hainault ready to climb the big Frenchman’s back at every opportunity, it’s time for Hassli – and his tatted up frame — to show he has some grit on the inside.
LIMIT SET PIECES: It’s no secret how Houston scores a majority of its goals. During a mid-week Champions League match in Central America, the Dynamo tallied three times off headers. They also opened the scoring last month at BMO Field from a corner.
MATCH HOUSTON’S MIDFIELD: When was the last time TFC’s midfield – which includes a Designated Player – controlled the middle of the park for 90 minutes? If given time and space, guys like Oscar Boniek Garcia and Ricardo Clark (listed as questionable) will cut Toronto to shreds.
THIS AND THAT
The Dynamo rested a number of starters during a 3-1 Champions League group stage win in El Salvador Wednesday night … Currently third all-time in terms of MLS home unbeaten runs, Houston has a while to go before it matches Real Salt Lake’s home unbeaten run of 29 games … While he didn’t come out and say it, Mariner’s mannerisms pointed to Freddy Hall earning a second straight start in place of Milos Kocic … For Toronto, Torsten Frings and Hassli didn’t train Friday as a precaution ahead of a difficult stretch of matches in quick succession.