TORONTO - “You’d have to be pretty deaf, dumb or blind” not to see Toronto FC’s “progression from Game 1 to the Philadelphia game,” according to Toronto FC bench boss Ryan Nelsen.
Which one are you?
Or maybe you answered “D”: None of the above.
In which case, you’re hearing the New Zealander loud and clear.
“(Our) performances have been really good and we just haven’t gotten the points that we’d like,” Nelsen said ahead of Saturday’s game in the U.S. capital.
Two teams taking up space at the bottom of the MLS table are set to battle it out to regain some level of respectability.
Dwayne De Rosario and D.C. United have been far and away the worst club in MLS this season, losing nine of their last 11 MLS meetings and being shut out seven times along the way.
“The guys are desperate to get out there, to play and to prove themselves,” Nelsen said.
Or to at least snap an unthinkable 11-game league winless run of their own.
It’s an obligatory stat that has to be said: Toronto hasn’t tasted an MLS win since the second game of the season, its only league win in its last 27 fixtures dating to 2012.
“They know it’s a big game, we know it’s a big game,” Nelsen said of United, a playoff team in 2012 and a club that’s riding high after a midweek U.S. Open Cup win over the Philadelphia Union.
On Wednesday, De Rosario seemingly returned to form, bagging a hat-trick against Philly and regaining the confidence of his head coach, Ben Olsen.
“I think we’ve all seen him (De Rosario) when he’s in a good rhythm and on fire,” Olsen told his club’s website. “He played with a chip on his shoulder and a little bit of fire about him.”
Not exactly what Nelsen and his embattled back four wanted to hear. Through 13 league games in 2013, the Reds have yet to secure a clean sheet, conceding devastating late-game daggers time and time again.
“(De Rosario’s) probably been, over the last 3-4 years, one of the best in MLS,” Nelsen said. “If he plays he can potentially hurt any team. He’s such a good player.”
Despite the desperation that will undoubtedly be evident when both teams step over the lines, Nelsen said his side’s players are focused on playing within themselves and controlling the things they can control.
“It’s all about us,” he said. “If we approach the game like we did against Philadelphia then we’ll have more than enough of a chance to win the game.”
The Reds received good news Friday when Darren O’Dea, who was questionable for Saturday’s game due to illness, made the trip to Washington.
If he passes fitness tests, look for O’Dea to remain on the left side of TFC’s defence, with Gale Agbossoumonde displacing the suspended Doneil Henry (red card) in the middle next to Steven Caldwell.
Despite Daryl Russell’s return from injury, Ryan Richter is likely to keep his spot on the right side of defence regardless of a few rocky showings.
With the Reds largely healthy for the first time in a long time, United received crushing news Friday afternoon when it was revealed standout attacker Chris Pontius will miss Saturday’s game because of a concussion. Pontius, a player on the fringes of the U.S. national team picture, joined fellow starters Ethan White and James Riles on the sideline.
Furthermore, Canadian Kyle Porter is listed as questionable for the black and red.
Still, the home side remains optimistic it can leapfrog the Reds in the standings on the weekend. Currently on six points, United will move one point above TFC in the Eastern Conference standings if it collects maximum points at home.
“We can not be in last place after this game,” Olsen said in a rather strange remark that demonstrates just how desperate these two sides are.
“That’s a real focus for us. We want to start moving up in the table as I’m sure (Toronto) do. So, it’s a great challenge for us.”
After Saturday, one of these teams will remain bad, the other worse. Never has the former looked so appetizing.