TFC’s defence a work in progress
Reds will have their hands full against Charlie Davies on Saturday
On paper, it looks as though Toronto FC's back line is in decent shape.
The Reds' defensive record this season reads six goals conceded in five games with two shutouts, and there are a handful of teams in Major League Soccer that have been breached at the back more often than TFC.
So according to the numbers, all is relatively well. But statistics don't tell the full story.
Though they've managed to keep potent strikers such as Portland's Kenny Cooper and San Jose's Chris Wondolowski — last year's MLS scoring champion — off the scoreboard, TFC's defenders have hardly gelled as a cohesive unit and more often have looked disorganized.
That hardly comes as a surprise. New coach Aron Winter has employed four different defensive line-ups this season, a sign that the Dutchman hasn't quite hit on the right combination.
Will he trot out a fifth formation Saturday when the Reds host D.C. United?
He just might — Toronto signed Richard Eckersley on a season's loan from English club Burnley on Friday and the English defender could make his MLS debut against D.C.
You can hardly blame Winter for experimenting.
Defensive depth was not one of the team's strong points at the start of the campaign, and player suspensions (Mikael Yourassowsky) and injuries (Nana Attakora) forced the Dutchman to juggle his lines.
But the recent additions of Eckersley and Danleigh Borman (in the Dwayne De Rosario trade) means the rookie coach has more options at the back. It's now up to Winter to figure out which is his best defensive set-up.
Still, problems persist for Winter, foremost among them trying to get the best out of Adrian Cann and Attakora.
The Canadians formed one of the most effective central defensive pairings in the league in 2010, but they have flattered to deceive in 2011. Both have put in irregular performances marred by silly errors and poor positioning, so much so that Winter decided to bench Attakora in Wednesday's 0-0 draw at home against L.A.
It's worrying that Attakora, one of the club's most consistent performers over the past two campaigns, has been a defensive liability so far this season. The Toronto native insists he's been dealing with "personal issues."
"A ton of things have been on my mind, which haven't allowed me to be myself in training and in games," Attakora told CBCSports.ca. "That's played a part. I'll be the first one to admit it — I've been distracted."
Attakora went on to say he's put his issues behind me and is refocused.
That's good, because if called upon on Saturday, he will have to be at his best against Charlie Davies.
The D.C. United forward is the league's top scorer this season with four goals — all the more impressive considering he's only played three matches, and has yet to start.
And while TFC's defence was able to shut down the more physical Cooper and Wondolowski, Davies poses a more dangerous threat with his cunning, quickness and dangerous off-the-ball runs.
If it is to stop Davies, Toronto needs a consolidated effort from its back line, abetted by Julian de Guzman and Jacob Peterson, the latter being one of the bright spots for TFC this season since switching from a winger to a defensive midfielder.