Reds Host Revs On Mariner's Home Debut

Asif Hossain - TorontoFC.ca
Home Debut

Coming off a midweek 3-3 draw in Houston, Toronto FC hopes to replicate its offensive output while limiting opposition goals against New England Revolution at BMO Field (GOLTV Canada at 5:30 p.m. ET).

The match is a home debut for head coach Paul Mariner. The former New England assistant said on Friday there is nothing special about playing the team he worked with for six seasons. His immediate concern is resuscitating Toronto's MLS season in which the Reds have just four points in 12 games. "Every single game is a cup final for us, we have to produce," Mariner told reporters. "It just so happens it's (against) New England."

Mariner took over just before Toronto started a two-game road trip in Kansas City and Houston, two of the toughest destination in the Eastern Conference. Two of the five goals conceded on the trip came on set-pieces. The coach wants to see that number drop and has put that responsibility on the entire team. "If we get a reputation of a team that gets scored on set pieces, that's not what you want."

Man In The Middle

Mariner's defensive efforts took a hit in Kansas City with Adrian Cann suffering a knee sprain. In his place, Richard Eckersley made his first start as a centre back this season on Wednesday in Houston.

The Englishman knows Toronto must improve in the goals against column, an area that haunted them in 2011 and to start this year in MLS, but he is preaching patience as the squad learns from the new boss. "It takes time, not going to happen overnight," Eckersley said of the adjustments brought about by Mariner. "It's been a tough three months, obviously, getting bad results," the defender said looking back, "it's a process and I think we can start that process now."

Due to his experience and fitness, Eckersley looks likely to keep the centre back role for now, though Dicoy Williams took his first steps in a competitive outing for the first time in a year on Wednesday, and Logan Emory is on the mend from a shoulder injury and expects to play at least in the Reserve League match that follows first team action on Saturday night. Both players should provide support for the backline as Toronto enters the busiest period in its 2012 calendar.

Unlikely Candidate

While Toronto looks for better organization at the back and on defensive set pieces, there has been no shortage of action in the opposition third. Although blanked 2-0 in Kansas City in Mariner's first game, Toronto created a plethora of chances before breaking through in a big way a few days later in Houston. An unlikely candidate scored the opening goal of the Mariner era, fullback Jeremy Hall found the back of the net (with some help from the uprights) for his first career MLS goal in the 3-3 thriller.

"I kinda shanked it," Hall admitted on Friday, though grateful for the good fortune. The fullback was set to compete for a fullback role against Eckersley and Ashtone Morgan after being acquired in the offseason but was delayed by a sports hernia. Recovered, Hall is quickly developing into a positive influence. "I think the first half of Houston we really played well. We showed that if we play like that for a complete 90 minutes we can win a lot more games for the rest of the season."

Creating Chances

Hall will be happy to leave the offensive exploits to the experts and one of them is midfielder Eric Avila, whose service is becoming invaluable to Mariner's 4-4-2 setup.

"We're still trying to figure out the way we want to play," Avila stated. "For me it's kind of a free role, I can move around left and right and try to pick out Danny (Koevermans) and (Ryan) Johnson."

It was Avila's shot that found its way to Hall's feet in Houston. Nine minutes later, his timely anticipation and a ball across the box to Koevermans for a sitter further proved Avila's worth on Toronto's attack. Arguably, his finest pass of that tremendous half came at the 28th minute, when Avila instinctively picked out a Terry Dunfield run into the area, which the Canadian headed wide by inches.

A similar effort Saturday night by Avila and his offensive contemporaries could very well land Mariner his first win from the touchline in Toronto.

The Opposition

The Officials

In his 15th game in charge, according to MLSsoccer.com, Juan Guzman will lead the referees to the pitch on Saturday. Guzman averages 26.4 fouls and 3.8 yellow cards per game. He has called four penalties and ejected six players in his MLS career.

Guzman's assistants are Adam Wienckowski and Brian Poeschel. The fourth official is Geoff Gamble.