New-look TFC looking to settle score with Columbus
Reds open season Saturday on the road against the Crew
What a whirlwind week it's been for Toronto FC.
On Tuesday, coach Preki revealed to reporters that he told Ali Gerba that he doesn't plan to use him at all for the upcoming Major League Soccer campaign, effectively bringing the Canadian forward's tenure with the team to an abrupt end.
On Wednesday, the coach admonished the local media for the overall negative tone of the recent press coverage surrounding the team, and threatened not to speak to reporters anymore if they didn't rally behind the club.
On Thursday, TFC general manager Mo Johnston traded right fullback Marvell Wynne to the Colorado Rapids for midfielder Nick LaBrocca and a third-round pick in the 2011 draft.
On Friday, the Reds made three separate roster moves, releasing back-up goalkeeper Brian Edwards (and replacing him with MLS veteran Jon Conway) and signing Argentine midfielder Martin Saric.
All of which leads us to Saturday when Toronto visits the Columbus Crew in its opening game of the regular season, capping off what will surely go down as one of the craziest weeks in team history.
TFC enters Saturday's match with a definite score to settle. Since entering the league in 2007, Toronto has never beaten the Crew in nine matches (five ties and four losses). The club's record of futility against Columbus is a sore spot with several players, giving them extra incentive to win the season opener.
"We owe them big time. We keep saying it every year but there comes a time when we're going to have to do it and it's going happen," captain Jim Brennan said.
"I hope it's going to be in the first game of the season [because] nothing would be better [than] to do it down in Columbus."
Winning in Columbus is a tall order, especially for a Toronto team that has historically struggled on the road, with just six victories away from the home.
Compounding problems for Toronto is its lack of firepower — the team managed to score one goal in five games against MLS competition in exhibition action. In the recent Carolina Cup Challenge tournament, the Reds finished third after losing two of three games and failed to score a single goal.
"The results speak for itself. We have trouble scoring," admitted Canadian midfielder Julian de Guzman. "We had chances going forward but getting used to scoring has been our problem in the pre-season."
Such an anemic offensive record simply won't do against a Columbus side that boasts a strong back line, featuring two-time reigning MLS defender of the year Chad Marshall.
With Gerba banished from the team and fellow forward Chad Barret still recuperating from injury, sophomore O'Brian White will likely carry the goal-scoring burden on Saturday. White had a respectable rookie campaign after missing most of the season because of injury, scoring two goals in nine appearances.
But it's a daunting challenge that he now faces as the club's No. 1 forward. Is he up for it? Preki thinks so.
"He's very coachable, he listens, he wants to get better — those are the guys you want to around, because at some point you know that he's going to become good," Preki said.
There are also serious questions to be asked of Toronto's much-maligned defence, too. TFC's back line was the third-worst in MLS in 2009, conceding a whopping 46 goals.
To an outside observer, it was clear that the defence had to be retooled in the off-season, but the only addition made by the club was acquiring unproven defender Ty Harden in a trade with Colorado.
For his part, veteran defender Nick Garcia, who joined the team from San Jose last June, admits he has to play much better than he did last season.
"Oh, of course. Yeah, no doubt about it," Garcia said. "Last year for me I had a few nagging injuries, I came into a new situation — it was what it was. Now I'm 100 per cent fit and ready to go, and I know that Preki is going to call on me at some point to help the team."