Toronto FC, D.C. United clash in battle of basement
TFC winless in 8, D.C. United without victory in 7 league games
It is a game that even hardcore fans may have trouble getting enthused over.
D.C. United may be the MLS doormat this season, but you could argue the lettering on top should read Toronto FC.
The two teams have combined for just seven wins this season and been glued to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
How bad have Toronto and United been this season? Fifteen of the league's 19 teams have more points that the two clubs combined (38). And the Columbus Crew are tied with 38 points.
For those considering taking in Saturday afternoon's game at BMO Field, be advised that Toronto strikers Danny Koevermans and Robert Earnshaw are still injured and that midfielder Jonathan Osorio, defender Steven Caldwell, manager Ryan Nelsen and assistant coach Fran O'Leary are all suspended.
And D.C. United (3-20-6) is expected to rest key players in advance of Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup final against Real Salt Lake.
"That's our season right there, in a nutshell," D.C. United's Canadian international midfielder Kyle Porter said of the championship game. "If we can win that, it just means everything to us, the club and our fans. So that's what we're striving to do."
Toronto (4-15-11) is winless in eight games. Sadly that only ranks as the team's second-longest winless run of the season after going 11 games without a victory from March 16 to June 1.
D.C. United hasn't won in seven league games, having already gone 13 games without a victory from March 16 to June 15.
Toronto has not scored more than one goal in a game since July 27. Nelsen is looking at a healthy Toronto roster with a combined eight goals to its credit this season.
Ben Olsen's United team is 0-12-3 on the road this season, scoring just five goals away from home. The stops in Toronto and Kansas City represent the last chances to avoid joining the 2011 Vancouver Whitecaps and three other teams as the only MLS clubs to go through an entire season without a road victory.
Of the Toronto players expected to be available Saturday, midfielder Darel Russell is tied for the team lead with six shots on goal. That's for the season.
United could set MLS records for fewest wins (four) and fewest goals (21).
Saturday's matchup features the league's two worst offences. Going into weekend play, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, Portland and Real Salt Lake have all scored more goals than Toronto (25) and D.C. United (19) have combined.
On the plus side, it's expected to be a sunny 19 degrees at kickoff. And Toronto goalie Joe Bendik is expected to wear pink as part of the league's breast cancer awareness campaign.
Ryan Jantzi, a 29-year-old pastor from Clinton, Ont., will kick for a $1-million dream home in the "Million Dollar Real Estate Dream Shot" contest sponsored by Titan Equity Group. He will have to score from the centre line into an opening in the net.
Just how many fans show up Saturday will be an interesting subplot.
Attendance at last week's rain-drenched loss to Sporting Kansas City was announced at a season-low 12,627. The previous season-low was 15,217, two weeks earlier versus Chicago.
Saturday is the penultimate home game for Toronto, which wraps up the season Oct. 26 at BMO Field against Montreal.
Toronto, which ended last season at 5-21-8 on a 14-game winless stretch, now has just four wins in its last 44 league games — and just 15 wins in 98 outings over its last three seasons.
A victory Saturday would represent Toronto's 50th in league play in seven seasons. The club's career MLS mark currently is 49-103-66.
Assistant coach Jim Brennan will lead Toronto on the sidelines in the absence of Nelsen and O'Leary. The suspended coaches will watch from a box.
"We'll be in communication," said Nelsen, before adding: "If we're not allowed to be in communication, we won't be in communication."
For Brennan, it is yet another role at the club. He was the franchise's first signing and captain, later serving as assistant GM and head coach of the under-17 academy team.
In Caldwell's absence, Toronto is expected to pair 21-year-old Gale Agbossoumonde with 20-year-old Doneil Henry at centre back.
It's a far cry from what he was soccer-wise at their age, Nelsen said.
"I was popping pimples and chasing girls. And not doing very well chasing them either, at Stanford somewhere," he joked.
"So when I see these two young men doing what they're doing, I keep telling them I was nowhere near their level, what they're doing now. I was making the exact same mistakes that they were doing it but I was just doing it in front of 300 people and a dog. They do it in front of Canada's media and the MLS media."
Nelsen declined to say who would wear the captain's armband in Caldwell's absence. "Spin the wheel," he said with a smile.
With 201 career MLS games under his belt, winger Bobby Convey would be a natural choice.
While the numbers paint a miserable picture for the two teams, both see light at the end of the tunnel.
'We are a talented group'
Porter says United's record this season is not indicative of the roster.
"We are a talented group," he said. "And I still think that when we play football, we're still one of the best teams in this league. It's just a down season."
Injuries to key players have hurt D.C. United.
"When you've got salary caps and you miss four or five key players, it can destroy a season," Nelsen said by way of agreement.
Nelsen acknowledges his team hasn't had that kind of influential core, but insists he will acquire those kind of players.
"You add a certain amount of quality and it can change the face of a team very very quickly," he said. "And in D.C.'s case, the loss of four or five key players has changed the outcome of their team.
"And it's a lesson that you've got to have a really nice balance in the whole squad."
Toronto's career record against D.C. United is 4-10-3 although Toronto has a win and tie from the two previous meetings this season.