TFC hopes to avoid getting scorched in Houston

The Reds played Houston to a 1-1 draw back in April at BMO Field, before midfielder Hogan Ephraim...

The Reds played Houston to a 1-1 draw back in April at BMO Field, before midfielder Hogan Ephraim was placed on waivers. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:22 AM ET

TORONTO - It’s akin to playing in a massive pressure cooker.

Encased in near blinding all-orange grandstands, Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium is the definition of home-field advantage in MLS.

“It speaks for itself,” Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen said of the Houston Dynamo’s 36-game home winning streak, one Sporting Kansas City finally snapped last month.

“It’s hot and they’re used to it,” Nelsen said of Houston. “I hope our guys go in there looking forward to seeing what they can do instead of dreading it.”

During Thursday’s pre-match training, TFC players were already dripping in sweat — some shaking their heads at the elevated temperatures that are beginning to encroach on the city.

In Houston, it’s expected to be 10 degrees warmer, with game-time temperatures approaching 34 C.

“I played (in Texas) when I was younger,” TFC centre back Stevie Caldwell recalled. “I went to Dallas Cup one year with Newcastle. I’ve experienced the Texas heat and it’s grilling and difficult. It’s up to us when we do have the ball that we keep it and we get a rest with the ball rather than constantly defending.”

Easier said than done, especially with last year’s MLS Cup runners-up coming off a lacklustre showing in Montreal midweek. The Impact made the Dynamo, a team that prides itself on being difficult to beat, look silly in a lopsided 2-0 result.

Before that, back-to-back home losses to Kansas City and New England, as well as consecutive draws at KC and Columbus, have left the Dynamo looking at a five-game winless streak they’ll be motivated to correct Saturday against TFC.

“They had 18 days off before (the Montreal loss) so they might be nice and fresh and looking forward to two games in four days,” Nelsen said of the Dynamo playing on short rest. “They’re proven winners in this league — a team you’d like to emulate.”

Proven winners, undoubtedly, but also a side the Reds thoroughly handled when Houston visited BMO Field in April.

But despite going a man down on the hour mark, the Dynamo fought back to level the game in second-half stoppage-time, keeping Toronto’s 11-game MLS winless run alive until it ended last weekend at D.C.

Nelsen, however, knows the Dynamo will present a much sterner test than bottom-feeding D.C. United.

“A lot of threats going forward and a lot of balls into the box,” Nelsen said of what he expects out of Houston. “Their set pieces are really good and they test your back line and test you mentally as well. They have some big guys who are fit and hard.”

Because of that, Doneil Henry, who missed the D.C. game through red card suspension, will likely come back into Nelsen’s lineup due to his aerial ability and his familiarity with Caldwell.

As a result, Darren O’Dea looks set to continue his renaissance at left back, where he’s had a surprising amount of success for a converted centre back.

“He’s very comfortable on the ball and he’s got a good cross and delivery,” Nelsen said of O’Dea. “Under tight spaces he handles the pressure really well. It’s just valuable to have a defender who can play two positions really well.”

There was speculation Danny Koevermans would see his first start of the season in Houston, but Nelsen’s pre-match comments provided little by way of information as to when and if TFC’s recovered Designated Player will get the nod up front.

On Saturday, expect Luis Silva to play beneath Robert Earnshaw up top as Nelsen will likely continue with a pairing most familiar with each other, leaving TFC’s leading scorer over the past few seasons on the bench.

“It’s hard because the type of playing Danny is,” Nelsen said of massaging Koevermans into the lineup. “At some stage we have to really see where he’s at after his injury. We’re just going to have to throw him into the deep end.”

Or, at some point, maybe into the pressure cooker on Saturday.


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