Mariner Seeks Complete Game In Houston

Asif Hossain -
Putting It Together

The third and final meeting between Toronto FC and Houston Dynamo in the 2012 MLS calendar will take place Saturday night at BBVA Compass Stadium (TSN at 8:30 p.m. ET).

Toronto is coming off a 2-1 loss in Columbus, where the Reds conceded inside the opening four minutes before making a late push. It continued a worrying trend for head coach Paul Mariner, with his players unable to put two complete halves together. In the last three league matches Toronto conceded first, facing an uphill climb the rest of the way. Mariner addressed this with his squad at the most recent team meeting saying "we can't play 45 minutes of football in MLS, we have to play 90 plus."

Last time Toronto visited Houston, the Reds got off to a strong start scoring three goals in the opening half. However, as Mariner observed, Toronto was unable to complete the task giving up two goals and getting a 3-3 draw from a match, that could have been a spectacular win against a top Eastern Conference squad that Mariner describes as a "very well-drilled, very good Houston team."

Silva's Scoring Touch

The second meeting between Toronto and Houston at BMO Field wasn't anywhere near as action-packed as the six-goal thriller from the first encounter. Houston put together a professional 2-0 victory with late goals in both halves, leaving Toronto frustrated in the final third. If one Toronto player can be counted on to find his name on the score sheet against the Dynamo on Saturday, it could be Luis Silva based on recent form.

The rookie scored Toronto's lone goal in Columbus, his fourth of the season and second in three matches. A natural attacker, Silva is being used as a second striker up top alongside Eric Hassli. Their partnership, with the help of energetic substitute Quincy Amarikwa, provided the Reds with hope for an equalizer in Columbus before time finally ran out on Toronto. Silva would like to see that same energy much earlier on Saturday.  "We started off really slow," Silva recalled, "and that cost us pretty much the game."

"Once we got started it was a little too late," lamented Silva. "We should start (like that) from the beginning, play 90 minutes of soccer."

Earning His Place

Mariner hasn't revealed if Amarikwa showed enough on Wednesday to earn a start in Houston, though it's easy to make a case for the 24-year old. Toronto became a different team with his darting runs up the right side, challenging Columbus defenders each time he ventured forward. After helping to set-up Silva's goal, Amarikwa nearly nicked the leveler himself, lunging his 5'9" frame toward goal for an off-balance header that unfortunately only found the opposition keeper's hands.

"I just did my job," Amarikwa said on Friday. He shared a similar sentiment after the Columbus match, saying he did what was asked of him by Mariner, to add some energy to the attack. This could be a tougher task in Houston where the Dynamo remain unbeaten in their new stadium, part of a 21-game run without a loss on home soil. "You approach it like you approach any game," Amarikwa mused when asked about the difficulties posed by Houston. "If we can play the way we did in the second half (on Wednesday) from the beginning, we'll be in really good shape."

Amarikwa's pace will be integral to Toronto as the Reds continue to cope without injured winger Reggie Lambe. He joins defenders Doneil Henry, Ty Harden and midfielder Matt Stinson on the list of those not making the trip due to injury.

Hard Knock Life

While the physical nature of MLS is well documented, Richard Eckersley received more than his share of punishment on Wednesday, taking multiple blows to the head on either side of a flying boot to the face in a span of a few minutes in the first half. One of the leaders in the Toronto backline, Eckersley will be relied on heavily to fortify the defence against a relentless Houston attack that features talented stars like Brad Davis, Boniek Garcia and Brian Ching.

Eckersley admits he loved being back at his fullback position on Wednesday, but should Mariner call on him to play elsewhere in Houston, the Englishman will accept the challenge. "It happens all the time over a season," Eckersley said, "whether it's right back or centre back, it's where the coach wants you ... all part and parcel of being a soccer player.

Wherever he is on the pitch Saturday night, Eckersley and his teammates will have to be alert from the first minute to the final whistle against a supremely gifted Houston Dynamo.

The Opposition