Toronto Takes On First Place Kansas City

Asif Hossain - TorontoFC.ca
The Boss Man

The top team in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference visits BMO Field on Saturday afternoon as Toronto FC hosts Sporting Kansas City (GOLTV Canada at 4:30 p.m. ET).

The Reds lost 2-0 in KC during the teams' previous meeting on June 16, the first match in charge for Toronto head coach Paul Mariner. The Kansans were relentless in attack from the first whistle, making it clear to the new TFC boss that a big presence was needed in his backline to take on the elite teams in MLS. The search for a "boss man" as Mariner put it, has led Toronto to Ireland international Darren O'Dea, who is expected to make his club debut on Saturday.

"I look forward to it," O'Dea said after training Friday. "It's quite obvious that the team needs to stop conceding so many goals." The centre back hopes to address the issue that has plagued TFC this season, conceding from defensive set-pieces. "It's tough enough keeping clean sheets without conceding (from) set-pieces," O'Dea added, signaling he is ready to take on the responsibility of reversing the Reds' fortunes in this area. O'Dea has racked up some travel miles this week, rejoining Toronto after representing his country in Belgrade for a nil-nil draw versus Serbia, in which he played the full 90 minutes for Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni.

New Role For RJ?

Toronto had a total of five players on international duty this week. Another figure returning to action is Ryan Johnson. The forward had played every minute of the Reds' competitive matches this season until missing Wednesday's 2-2 draw with Portland. True to form, the 27-year old played the full 90 minutes for Jamaica in its 2-0 win over El Salvador.

In his absence, Eric Hassli and Luis Silva found the score sheet for Toronto. Johnson may have a midfield role on Saturday, allowing the Hassli-Silva partnership to continue. "In this next match I'm going to be on the left hand side," Johnson revealed. "I'm going to be looking to give (Hassli and Silva) service as much as I can." Johnson was often used out wide with San Jose before arriving in Toronto midway through 2011. He often played on the left side as a forward in a 4-3-3 formation with the Reds before Mariner took over. Given his previous experience in this role and with fullback Ashtone Morgan in form, Toronto could be lethal up the left side on Saturday.

Prosperous Partnership

The Hassli-Silva combination received some early oohs and aahs in an otherwise timid first half display from Toronto against Portland. Mariner admitted to using some "choice words" at halftime to get the message across and the pair benefitted from a re-energized squad, each scoring a goal six minutes apart.

"Luis is a great player, he has great feet," Hassli said of the TFC rookie. The Frenchman continued that he feels quite comfortable alongside either Silva or Johnson on attack from the two matches he has played so far. In his second MLS season, Hassli is well aware of Kansas City's ability and looks forward to the challenge, calling them "a tough team, really physical (and) athletic." The visitors are coming off a 2-1 win over D.C. United with goals from Teal Bunbury and Graham Zusi.

Seeing Games Out

Toronto suffered a loss at midfield in the first half on Wednesday when Reggie Lambe left with an injury. His status was unknown as of Friday's training session but Toronto does receive a boost at midfield with the return of Terry Dunfield. The Canadian played 77 minutes in a 2-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago at a neutral site friendly in Florida this week.

Dunfield was following the Toronto match online, his celebration muted by an 82nd minute equalizer by Portland. "It just seems like we do all the hard work, but we are struggling to see games out right now." Dunfield credits Mariner for his recent call-up to Canada and hopes he can continue to produce at the level that put him back on national team radar.

The Opposition

Special Introduction

Prior to kickoff Toronto FC plans to recognize a few of Canada's top athletes that represented the country at the 2012 London Olympics. The club asks fans to arrive early to help give the Canadian Olympians a tremendous BMO Field reception.