Sports

Toronto FC turns attention back to league

TORONTO - A cup triumph in the books, it's back to reality for Toronto FC.

Nine games, no points in MLS play. And the prospect of plenty of time to think about that wretched record if it continues Saturday against the visiting Philadelphia Union (2-6-2).

Thanks to the next round of World Cup qualifiers, Toronto (0-9-0) has a three-week break before it resumes play in Kansas City on June 16.

Toronto outplayed an underperforming Vancouver 1-0 midweek to win 2-1 on aggregate and lift the Voyageurs Cup for the fourth straight year.

Another win going into the league hiatus would be welcome.

"We could sign off on a great note," midfielder Terry Dunfield said Friday.

"I don't think we're a million miles off. I think we've been close in the league several times," he added. "We just need to get that monkey of our back and get those three points. And then I think the points will come.

"But every Wednesday night game under the lights in a cup, we've been a different class this season. So for sure if we can carry that mentality into the league, that can only help."

Philadelphia, at least from the standings, represents Toronto's best chance to pick up some points.

The Union stand 18th in the league, with an eight-point bulge over MLS doormat Toronto.

"They're kind of similar to us," said Toronto defender Jeremy Hall. "They play well, they miss a few chances and they give up a bunch of silly goals.

"I know a lot of the guys on the team just from playing with them through college, youth national teams. A young team, hard-working team and Peter Nowak is a coach who demands a lot of his players. It's going to be a dogfight."

Said Dunfield: "They're a strong physical side, and they've been a little bit unlucky as well."

Midfielder Julian De Guzman called the Union a physical team that likes to go forward.

"But we know that they're breakable. They don't do so well on the road," added de Guzman.

It may be a low-scoring affair.

The two have combined for 15 goals in 19 games. Seven other teams have matched or exceeded that total individually.

Toronto has been blanked in four of its five home league games this season, scoring twice in the other match. The Union have been shut out in two of their five road outings with just three away goals to their credit.

One of those goals came last Saturday when Philadelphia rallied for a 1-1 tie in Dallas, ending a three-game losing streak.

Still, Philadelphia has good memories of Toronto last season. The Union humiliated TFC 6-2 at BMO Field and then tied Toronto 1-1 in PPL Park in October in a result that clinched Philadelphia's first ever playoff spot.

Toronto coaches and players have been scratching their head as to why the team has excelled in cup competition (3-1-4 this season) but tanked in the league.

Forward Reggie Lambe offered a simple suggestion for spreading the wealth.

"I think in our mind we should just take the league as a cup match. If we do that, then maybe we'll get wins," said the 21-year-old Bermudian.

It's been eight months and 23 games since Toronto has recorded back-to-back wins. Manager Aron Winter's team beat Colorado 2-1 in league play and FC Tauro 1-0 in the CONCACAF Champions League last September.

Toronto is also looking to avoid setting any further records for futility. Already in the record book for longest losing streak to start the season, Toronto wants no part of the league record for consecutive losses (12, set by the 1999 MetroStars).

And Toronto faces a tough schedule after the break with away games in Kansas City and Houston.

Wednesday's win did lift the spirits of the players, who trained at BMO Field on Friday in torrid 29-degree heat.

"You could feel it in the practice, in the atmosphere in the changing room," said de Guzman.

"You can tell in the changing room, everyone's buzzing," added defender Richard Eckersley. "Training was lively.

"We want to make it (winning) more consistent now. Not every month or so."

De Guzman was sent off against Vancouver during a scuffle which started when Whitecaps forward Sebastien Le Toux shoved Ryan Johnson. Players started congregating and de Guzman made contact with Jun Marquez Davidson's face in what was closer to a caress than a punch.

"I just gave him a little tap. He kind of overreacted, if you saw. It almost looked like he had CPR going on there," de Guzman said of the medical treatment that followed.

While de Guzman admitted his emotions got the best of him, Hall appreciated his midfielder sticking up for the team.

"We fought, we covered for each other," he said. "We were slide-tackling. There were little scuffles and we just had each other's back for 90 minutes and I that was the reason why we won."

Winter echoed the sentiment.

"We fought and battled for it. We played well."

Le Toux was also ejected after receiving a second yellow in the melee.

Toronto could probably use the break in the schedule. Thanks to the CONCACAF Champions League and Amway Canadian Championship play, Toronto has already played 17 games this season.

Teams like Philadelphia, the Chicago Fire and Sporting Kansas City have just played 11 games.

"It's going to be tough on Saturday," Hall said. "Legs are heavy. We put a lot out there Wednesday night. ... We'll just have to push ourselves on the weekend."

Philadelphia goalkeeper Zac MacMath has been sidelined with concussion symptoms but could be pressed back in action after backup Chase Harrison rolled his ankle last weekend.

Toronto will be without forward Eric Avila (ankle contusion), which may open the door for Danny Koevermans to return to the starting 11.

Since returning from a groin injury, the big Dutchman — one of Toronto's three designated players — has only seen action from the bench. With a contract worth US$1.563 million this season, that's an expensive backup.

Winter has said that his preference is to play both Koevermans and Johnson, pointing to Koevermans' post-injury fitness as the reason he has been relegated to the bench.

"I was fit Wednesday also. Last week also," Koevermans said pointedly.

Winter suggested Koevermans' day may be coming.

"To play in this league you have to be 100 per cent fit ... And of course when Danny's fit, he's going to play."

Notes — Luis Boa Morte remains on trial with Toronto. Winter said a decision on whether to sign the 34-year-old former Portuguese international will be helped by seeing him play in a reserve match Saturday.

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