Toronto FC vs Houston Dynamo: After Six Long Months TFC Finally Return Home
Finally! Finally we get to head down to BMO Field – sorry, the newly renovated, improved, shiny, tunnel club having BMO Field – to watch our Reds. After more than six months, a silly amount of drafts, player signings, player injuries and eight games on the road we finally get to watch our Toronto FC play in front of us. It’s a bit surreal, no? But it is finally here – what feels like the real start to the season. Sounds silly given how many games they’ve played, but part of having a local team to support is getting to see them play in front of you and that day is upon us! Whee! I may be a little excited.
But this is no ordinary home opener; oh no this one is laden with expectation, pomp & circumstance and apparently the future of the franchise and perhaps MLS itself, if some or any of the hype is to be believed. Because caught up in all of this is the $120 million (or more) renovation that BMO Field has been undergoing since late last season (and continuing on into the next year). A renovation that has added over 8000 additional seats, a new level to the East Stand, apparently some kind of beer garden/patio on the south stand (please not behind us, please not behind us) and of course the many, many new suites and brand new tunnel club madness. TFC have a lot to live up to coming into this game – they have to show that they’re worth the investment, that this time things will be different.
There are also football expectations to live up to; this fanbase has suffered throughout the existence of this franchise – we’ve been sold more than one bill of goods and many have walked away, exhausted and fed up with the futility. Coming off two wins (and clean sheets) on the road in league play has expectations for this match ratcheted up to almost fever pitch. Add in the alleged sell-out – 30,000+! – and article after article about how amazing it all is, it’s a wonder that football is even part of the equation. But for us, the fans in the seats, the ones that have been waiting and hoping and wanting, it’s all about the football.
Houston have generally been a mainstay in the playoff race since joining the league in 2006 – in fact they won the cup their first two years and have been in the mix for all but two of the past nine years. Last year was when they really started to fade, not making the playoffs, finishing 8th in the East and perhaps the most important is losing Dominic Kinnear – the only coach the Dynamo have had – who resigned as head coach after the last match of the season. This season hasn’t gone much better thus far; they’re 9th in the West (oh yeah, they had to move back west), can’t score a goal on the road and are second only to the Union in goals allowed. Not exactly the fresh start they’d hoped for under new manager Owen Coyle.
They’re also one of the few teams that Toronto FC have a winning record against at home. The highlight of course was last year’s four goal comeback after Brad Davis had scored the exact same goal twice early on in the first half – remember that? Wasn’t that fun? Houston are coming off a 1-0 loss at home to Dominic Kinnear’s new team the San Jose Earthquakes after getting routed 4-1 by (Mark Hinkley’s) FC Dallas the week before. While this may be good news for TFC – who doesn’t want to take on a team on a run of bad form – the Dynamo are desperate to prove that they are more than a bottom feeder and struggling to get their big players involved consistently while looking to the lesser lights to contribute.
Of note to watch for is of course Brad Davis the set piece monster and the always dangerous Will Bruin who’s still trying to work himself back into the first team as a starter since struggling with injury towards the end of last season. Nathan Sturgis (remember him?), has been a more than solid contributor to Houston this season but is out injured with a dislocated shoulder. That leaves the man leading the way for the Dynamo this season, Giles Barnes who has scored five of Houston’s eleven goals. Exciting, no?
Toronto should look pretty much the same as it has during the past two league games in terms of personnel. None of the injured players will be back which means Mark Bloom, Steven Caldwell, Clement Simonin and Joe Bendik will all watch from a suite somewhere. This isn’t a huge concern as the previous two games (one with Bendik, one with Chris ‘Caveman’ Konopka) have been fairly decent efforts. Although parts of that game against the Union were a bit nervy they still managed to come away with the win and the clean sheet.
Both Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco have been finding their form of late and been much more involved and dynamic. It’s also been great to have Benoit Cheyrou back in the midfield as it opens up the other players to roam a bit more freely as he’s been equally comfortable in both the attack and in tracking back. And then there’s Jackson – who knew he had this in him? By no means the best player on the pitch he’s been more than solid the past couple of games and has been a difference maker. The defense (even with one player not on his natural side) has been better – again Nick Hagglund probably shouldn’t be starting but has been good enough next to Damien Perquis. Is it the best XI that Toronto can field? No, but given what they have right now it’s close enough.
Houston is a beatable team; they’ve got a lot of cracks to exploit with a constantly shifting starting XI and a shaky defense – wait, this sounds eerily familiar…Regardless, Toronto has some positive momentum on their side and should be able to feed off the buzz and positive energy from a home crowd that has been starved for live soccer. I’m expecting a positive result from this one – see I can be positive! – there’s every reason to think that TFC can give the home fans the welcome that they so desperately want. See you at BMO everyone!