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  • Houston v. TFC Preview: 90 Minutes of Hell


    What's the best way to get over a 5-0 drubbing?

    How about taking a skeleton squad and playing a conference rival three days later, in the type of sweltering heat that would make Sepp Blatter think about turning the traditional two 45 minute halves into three shorter periods of play?

    And do it all in a venue that has been far less than kind to your side over the years.

    That's what faces Toronto FC on the heels of their thorough dismantling at the hands of the New York Red Bulls, as the Reds immediately headed south to take on Houston in their cauldron of a stadium. One school of thought is that the best way to get over a poor result is to play again as soon as possible, ostensibly to erase the bad taste that could linger far longer than it should.

    I'm not convinced that that is the case, at least in this circumstance.


    For one, TFC are still as bruised and battered as they were in the midweek, except now their depleted crew has an extra 90 minutes of running around and a flight across a time zone to add to the list of things working against them. Three days will not physically heal much, although perhaps Alan Gordon will be ready to make a cameo on Saturday rather than watching from the bench.

    So what we're in for is another blooding of the B squad, a rudderless bunch that have had their confidence thoroughly shattered and with no real reason to believe that things will be different in Texas. That said, it likely won't be as bad as their visit to Red Bull Arena.

    The Dynamo are not the team they were in the mid-00's, and they are certainly not the armed-to-the-teeth Red Bulls looking to make an example of whatever poor schlubs happen to be lined up against them. In fact, Houston are -- in the standings, at least -- not all that much different than Toronto.

    They've won only once since April, and have looked incredibly vulnerable at home since the opening month of the season. What they haven't done is allowed teams to blow them out like the Reds have, keeping the score close in most of their matches in 2011, while hoping for a moment of brilliance from set piece extraordinaire Brad Davis to rescue a point or three.

    With temperatures likely to be in the mid 40's with humidity factored in, Houston's reliance on Davis' dead ball skills and the physicality of forwards Will Bruin and Brian Ching will come to the forefront. Toronto's 4-3-3 system, with heavy insistence on high-pressure, does not at all seem fit for the sauna-like conditions that'll be lingering at time of kick-off, and yet it's very likely that TFC will stubbornly line up that way regardless.

    With that in mind, it's almost paramount for a guy like Gordon to feature in the match, as his height and crash-bang style will at least present a different dimension to a system that can be pretty predictable otherwise.

    Possession of the ball will be paramount as players tire under the Texas sun, and Toronto will once again be missing Julian de Guzman in the middle of the park as he rests a never-ending knee injury. With JDG out and Torsten Frings unavailable until the next match, the brunt of the workload in the centre will fall to Nathan Sturgis and Mikael Yourassowski, a pairing that got overrun in the midweek.

    Both players will be auditioning for spots, as returning players and the newcomers will undoubtedly rank higher in the pecking order by the time the team plays its next match. They can overcome their bad outing and give Aron Winter a positive memory for the eleven day break following Saturday's match, or they can throw out another stinker and seal their fates as nothing more than backups and trade bait. It's really up to them.

    For the team as a whole, the goal is clear. Get through 90 more minutes, then regroup during an extended mid-season break that should allow some wounds to heal and allow the new players to gain fitness. It's imperative for the team's psyche, heading into the new period of "hope", that they don't lay an egg in Houston like they did in New Jersey.

    Will the players on hand be able to keep things respectable?

    Houston Dynamo v. Toronto FC

    Saturday, July 9, 2011. 8:30pm EDT.

    Robertson Stadium. Houston, TX.

    Watch: GolTV Canada, MLS MatchDay Live

    Listen: FAN590.com

    Rudi Schuller occasionally contributes Toronto FC and Canadian national team content to the 24th Minute. He manages the Euro File here at Canadian Soccer News, and is MLSsoccer.com's beat writer for all things concerning Canada's men's national teams. Follow Rudi on Twitter, @RudiSchuller.

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