Toronto FC visits Timbers to face familiar face
1st TFC game since firing of general manager
Toronto FC will face an old friend when its post-Kevin Payne era begins in Portland.
With starter Donovan Ricketts away with Jamaica on international duty, Milos Kocic will be in the Timbers goal Saturday night to welcome his old teammates to the MLS cauldron that is Jeld-Wen Field.
The game is the first for Toronto FC, mired in yet another disappointing season at 4-12-10, since the midweek firing of Payne, the club's president and general manager, and his right-hand man Earl Cochrane, TFC's director of team and player operations.
While Saturday's expected start will only be the second for Kocic this season, the 28-year-old from Serbia says he has enjoyed his time with Portland (9-5-12).
The Timbers are a stark contrast to the woeful team Kocic was part of last season when Toronto (5-21-8) posted franchise worsts for wins, losses, points (23) and goals against (62).
Toronto opened the 2012 season with a league-record nine straight losses and finished the campaign on a 14-game winless streak.
This season, Portland reeled off a 15-game unbeaten streak in April, May and June. The team has wobbled of late, having to deal with a depleted roster.
"It's definitely different than Toronto," Kocic said, "because it's a winning team, it's a winning mentality."
He likes the Timbers' competitive attitude under coach Caleb Porter and says the city has become a happy home to his wife and triplets, who turn one on Monday.
Just another game
But he says the weekend date with his old team is nothing special. Out of sight is out of mind.
"For me it's like every other game," said Kocic, who started 27 games for Toronto last season. "Maybe I would feel a bit different if I was at BMO Field but here it's just another game for me."
He says he looks forward not back, mostly.
"I appreciated my time in Toronto, it was amazing," he said. "It's where I started my family. I see Toronto as my second home but obviously I have a professional life in a different city and I have to be focused and stay in the present."
Plus there aren't many familiar faces left in Toronto given the turnover this season. Kocic is one of 25 players to leave since the end of last season.
"It's unbelievable," said Kocic, struggling to remember former colleagues beyond Stefan Frei, Richard Eckersley, Danny Koevermans, Jeremy Hall and Reggie Lambe.
The Kocic deal was one of Payne's first in Toronto.
He shipped Kocic and Jamaican international forward Ryan Johnson to Portland for a first-round pick (used to take midfielder Kyle Bekker third overall in the 2013 SuperDraft), goalkeeper Joe Bendik and allocation money.
The trade has worked out for both clubs.
Bendik, taking advantage of injuries to Frei, has established himself as first-choice 'keeper in Toronto. In some games, he has been the only bright point for manager Ryan Nelsen.
Johnson, meanwhile, is tied for the Portland lead in goals this season with eight after scoring just 10 goals in his two years with Toronto.
Hampered by injuries, the Timbers have lost two straight and have taken just five points of the last 15 on offer. The team went 2-4-3 in July and August.
But heading into the weekend, Portland is in the midst of the battle for playoff berths in the Western Conference. The Timbers occupy the fifth and final playoff spot, two points ahead of the Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Dallas.
And with a game against Chivas USA (5-15-7) after Toronto, Portland has a chance to add to its points total.
In contrast, Toronto is 15 points out of the playoffs in the East and doing little more than playing out the string.
Both teams are missing players.
Toronto's Jonathan Osorio, Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan and Bekker are all with the Canadian national team.
Portland is missing Ricketts, Johnson and defender Alvas Powell, who are all with Jamaica. Midfielder Ben Zemanski is suspended after being red-carded in last week's 4-2 loss to Real Salt Lake that saw Argentine playmaker Diego Valeri leave through injury.
The Timbers acquired defender-midfielder Brad Ring from San Jose this week in order to add some depth to their roster
The good news is that Portland captain Canadian international and Will Johnson is expected back after missing four games with a broken bone in his shoulder.
"I know they're an excellent side who are pushing hard for the playoffs so it'll be a tough game for us," said Toronto captain Steven Caldwell, who has been a constant in a changing backline. "But we're looking forward to it and we're hoping to keep up with the progression that we've been making in the last month or two.
"Hopefully we can have a great end to the season and set ourselves nicely for what's going to be an extremely exiting season next (year)."
Toronto is coming off a 1-1 tie with New England, denied a win by a disallowed Caldwell headed goal. Like Portland, it is 1-2-2 in its last five matches.
Mathematically, the team has yet to be eliminated from post-season contention. But Caldwell is looking ahead.
"We're disappointed we missed out on the playoffs this season," said the Scottish defender, speaking before Payne's dismissal this week. "But what we're trying to do is create a stability and a base to push on next season and get into the playoffs. It's about progression just now and doing the right things, and creating the atmosphere where we are going to be successful."