Toronto Starts Hostile Road Trip

Central America will be followed by a fiery test in Chicago Sunday.

Undefeated since July 23, Toronto FC head south to Panama and Chicago, anxious to better their lot in 2011/12 CONCACAF Champions League and MLS standings.

The team has twice beaten Nicaragua’s Real Esteli F.C. (in CCL preliminary), tied the Portland Timbers 2-2, D.C. United 3-3, and posted a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake.

Now comes Thursday’s game in Panama City against Tauro F.C. (Setanta, 8 p.m. ET) and Toronto forward Ryan Johnson sees a re-invigorated unit picking up steam.

“The new players are coming in and making an immediate impact. We just have to stay together and stay healthy and finish off the season the best we can.”

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Pregame: Richard Eckersley

03/30/2012

Toronto defender Richard Eckersley ahead of Saturday's 2 p.m. match against Columbus Crew.

Playing in a cauldron of international soccer, Tauro has long dominated the sport in Panama. Performing there should harden the team, said the 26-year-old Jamaican, acquired by the club in mid-July. That seasoning is especially valuable when playing the style of attacking football proselytized by Toronto head coach Anton Winter.

“It’s an exciting formation when it comes to offence,” Johnson said.  “Defensively sometimes we get exposed but we have to get behind the ball the best we can. We did that last game and the games before that. A stretch like this where we are put in hostile environments helps us grow together. You get to know each other a lot better.  We can see what we are made of and what our teammates are made of.”

On Friday the club jets to Chicago for a Sunday contest against the self-immolating Chicago Fire who have just two wins to date (GOL TV Canada, 7 p.m. ET). Despite a grizzly record of four wins against 11 draws and losses in MLS games, Toronto stands just eight points arrears of the New York Red Bulls, who are tentatively holding the 10th and final MLS Cup Playoffs place.

To gauge the state of the team, you need look no further than the heartbreaking 3-3 tie against D.C., a game deadlocked by former Toronto FC captain Dwayne DeRosario in the 88th minute.

“I think the biggest thing is D.C.,” said goalkeeper Stefan Frei. “After the game, we were upset with ourselves. We see what we are capable of. It will take some time to gel and come together but I think we are on the right track.”

“I think it’s a great experience for young guys to go to different environments,” he said. “There is a lot of traveling but I think we are a pretty deep team.”

Defender Danleigh Borman sees the murderous turnaround,  two days in Panama followed by a flight to Chicago and another game two days after landing, as a positive.

“The coaches put a lot of challenges to us. Chicago is going to be the same. I think we are starting to get to know each other and know how everyone plays. It obviously takes a couple of games. With us unbeaten for five games, this is a good sign.”