Reds Return To Kansas City

Asif Hossain - TorontoFC.ca
Where It Began

Head coach Paul Mariner will lead Toronto FC back to the ground where he made his TFC coaching debut when the Reds visit Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Livestrong Sporting Park (Sportsnet One at 8:30 p.m. ET).

In that June 16 meeting Kansas City took its first half chances via C.J. Sapong and Julio Cesar while Toronto missed a few in a 2-0 defeat. Including that game Toronto has four wins, six losses and six draws (4-6-6) with Mariner as boss after he inherited the club with a 1-9-0 record. Looking to get something from Eastern Conference leading Kansas City, Mariner brings a squad that's been depleted by injuries.

Toronto forward Eric Hassli is listed as questionable for this match. The striker took a shot to the ribs during a 3-1 midweek Champions League loss against Santos Laguna and was substituted halfway through. "He's still sore," Mariner confirmed to Toronto FC TV. "Obviously I want (Hassli) on the team, but if you play with bruised ribs every movement you make is difficult." Should he not be available Saturday, it'll be an opportunity lost for Hassli and Toronto with KC centre back Aurelien Collin suspended. Collin had Hassli wrapped up (often literally, with both arms in full view) when the teams met at BMO Field on August 18. Kansas City stole three points with an 83rd minute goal by Kei Kamara in a 1-0 win.

A Familiar Setup

Toronto was previously on the road a week ago when the team earned a hard-fought 1-1 draw in Houston with Terry Dunfield heading home a heroic equalizer five minutes from the end of rgulation time. The pregame story in South Texas was similar to the one in Kansas City with injury-ravaged Toronto visiting another Goliath in its division. Reds continue to be without defender Doneil Henry, while winger Reggie Lambe and central midfielder Matt Stinson have seen their status upgraded to 'questionable' for Saturday.

The short bench has forced Mariner to ask more of his players despite a congested schedule. This will be Toronto's sixth match in 18 days and in that span the Reds have conceded four goals in the final 10 minutes of games. "In general we're making naive mistakes," Dunfield said addressing the late-game concerns. "At the minute we can't get away with anything, we are really getting punished." Alluding to the Kamara goal that doomed Toronto just two weeks earlier, Dunfield admitted "the last Kansas game left a sour taste in our mouth." The midfielder hopes Toronto can mimic or better the Houston outcome heading into a match under familiar circumstances.

Seeking Consistency

Mariner has been striving to put a regular eleven together but player turnovers and fitness challenges have kept him from finding the kind of consistency he desires. Mariner says his options are "a little stunted at the present moment" with changes, injuries and a lack of familiarity with new players taking on bigger roles. Through these challenges with personnel, one constant has been defender Richard Eckersley, who is wary of Kansas City's attack. 

"They've got massive strength and depth," Eckersley said of the Saturday counterpart. Even though it was learned this week that Teal Bunbury will be missing the rest of the season with a torn ACL, the team still boasts Kamara, Sapong and Graham Zusi on attack. For Eckersley, containing KC rests on how Toronto approaches the match, which he hopes will be on the front foot with fewer long balls resulting in giveaways. "I think if we can start building from the back ... it will work in our favour."

Getting Comfortable

Tuesday's Champions League match marked the third consecutive start for goalkeeper Freddy Hall. Incidentally, it was after the last Kansas City game that head coach Mariner made the change in goal and Hall feels he is adjusting to new surroundings. "MLS is a pretty physical league at times ... but I'm feeling very comfortable," the keeper said. Mariner hasn't revealed who will start Saturday night and though Hall is a newcomer to MLS, he is learning about its strengths quickly saying "every team we've played so far has some quality players. We have to respect our opponent every time we play."

Hall, a Bermuda native, along with Canadians Dunfield and Ashtone Morgan, Jamaica internationals Ryan Johnson and Dicoy Williams, and Ireland defender Darren O'Dea will leave the Reds for international duty following Saturday's match in Kansas City. Toronto will get a short break, then return to play on September 12 against Chicago at BMO Field, with some of these players expected to remain with their national teams.

The Opposition