Toronto Takes Momentum To Chicago

Asif Hossain - TorontoFC.ca
A Tough Opponent

Following a 5-1 win over C.D. Aguila in the CONCACAF Champions League, Toronto FC returns to MLS action on Saturday against Chicago Fire (GOLTV Canada at 8:30 p.m. ET).

Toronto narrowly lost to Chicago 3-2 back on April 21 while in the midst of a long losing streak. Much has changed for the Reds since then, including the appointment of new head coach Paul Mariner. "It's the usual story, an away game, we have to get something out of it," Mariner said before departing for Chicago on Friday. "It's going to be very, very tough, but coming off the back of a very good performance, I'm very hopeful."

Chicago enters the match after dropping two points late in a 1-1 draw with San Jose. Mariner noted his opposite number Frank Klopas has made major changes at midseason, which adds greater intrigue to a difficult fixture.

A Team Player

Toronto marked Friday with the announcement of a new centre back signing, Ireland international Darren O'Dea. The defender will not be available for this match, likely giving the pairing of Richard Eckersley and Logan Emory at the middle of Toronto's defence a 10th consecutive start in MLS, friendly and CCL competition.

"Every game now to the end of the season is massive, it's a cup final," Eckersley said of the importance of facing Chicago. The Fire sits 13 points ahead of TFC, holding down the fifth and final MLS Cup Playoffs spot. The Englishman is a natural fullback but has been a reliable servant at centre back for Mariner, who asked for one of his young defenders to take on a leadership role at the back. With O'Dea's addition Eckersley may move back to the right after this match. "It's part of the team, whatever Paul (Mariner) says to do, I'm willing to do."

Silva Continues To Shine

On Wednesday, Luis Silva opened the scoring for Toronto by placing a textbook header inside the far post off a Torsten Frings corner. The first year American then set up Reggie Lambe for the first of his two strikes in a dominant start to his 2012/13 CCL campaign.

In MLS, Silva had been red hot in recent weeks (two goals and an assist in three games) until TFC was shut out 2-0 against Houston last weekend. Silva, now a definite contender for MLS rookie of the year, told Toronto FC TV "I'm just trying to help the team as much as I can, from any position I play it doesn't matter." Personal ambitions aside, Silva knows Toronto needs results if it is to threaten Chicago for a top five position in the Eastern Conference. "We need these three points. The next two games are really important for us, we need to focus on (Saturday) first, then we'll see next weekend." Toronto visits another division rival, Columbus, next weekend.

Depth Up Front

Silva may have a chance to work with newly acquired forward Eric Hassli for the first time on Saturday. The Frenchman incidentally hurt his ankle in Chicago with Vancouver on July 14. Still recovering, Hassli was an unused substitute at midweek, with fellow forward Andrew Wiedeman lining up on the left side of midfield and Silva used as a second striker behind Ryan Johnson.

"Obviously being in conference, (this game) could be a potential six point swing," Wiedeman stated. Relatively new players like him, Hassli, Quincy Amarikwa, along with existing offensive options in Silva, Johnson, Lambe and Eric Avila, provides Toronto with depth that Mariner has quietly accrued over recent weeks. Toronto has yet to win in Chicago and Wiedeman believes the opening minutes could hold the key to ending the drought. "The first 15 is always huge, we have to make sure to play simple, not give up any goals."

The Opposition

The Officials

Long-time MLS official Michael Kennedy is the lead referee Saturday night. Corey Parker and Mark Cahen are his assistants with Matthew Foerster as the fourth official according to MLSsoccer.com. Kennedy has taken charge of 148 MLS matches. He averages 28.6 fouls and 3.8 yellow cards per game. Kennedy has shown red 30 times and has called 50 penalties.