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Wileman: Resurgent Toronto FC prepares to host Rapids

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Luke Wileman
4/10/2014 10:03:28 PM
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In 2013, it took Toronto FC 21 matches to earn just three wins. A year later and it is a very different story. Instead of starving the fans of success and making them wait until the end of July to reach that three victory mark, the Reds have managed to achieve it just four matches into the season.

Heading into the year, expectations were high, driven by the star power that had been added in the offseason, but as Toronto sits second in the Eastern Conference heading into Saturday's home match against Colorado Rapids (live on TSN at 4pm ET) the story developing is showcasing the supporting cast as well as he big names.

One of the big question marks around this team is whether there is enough depth to rely on within the squad when they lose their top players. Last Saturday in Columbus, there were plenty of players eager to prove that depth is there as the team had to face the Crew missing some key pieces including leading scorer Jermain Defoe and first choice central defensive pairing: Steven Caldwell and Doneil Henry.

The win in Columbus probably told us more about the reality of Toronto's playoff hopes than the previous wins against Seattle Sounders and DC United. Players such as Bradley Orr and Nick Hagglund made significant contributions, as did young Canadian midfielder Kyle Bekker. While Toronto's post season ambitions will rest on the consistently high level performances of their big wage earners, having reliable options to call upon within the rest of the squad will also be extremely significant.

So in Columbus, it was three points that certainly weren't expected. It was a win that proved the new look TFC has the potential to be about more than just the stars.

Defoe remains a major doubt for the match against Colorado with the hamstring injury that forced him off in the second half of the 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake, but Ryan Nelsen's men have already shown they can win without the England international. They will however be desperate to have Michael Bradley available. The United States international has been magnificent through his first four games with the team. He has missed training this week but is expected to be ready to face the Rapids.

Bradley is the heartbeat of Nelsen's team. He scored the opening goal in Columbus a week ago, but his performances so far have been of a consistently high standard, driving the team forward from midfield. While everyone has played a part in the excellent start to the season, Bradley has been the key to success.

Rapid Response

Toronto FC certainly have history on their side heading into Saturday's match. Colorado have visited BMO Field on seven occasions and only won once. However, that match was the most important of them all, beating FC Dallas in extra time to win MLS Cup in 2010. When playing Toronto FC, the Rapids have lost all six.

This is the second of back-to-back games for Colorado in Canada and they arrive in Toronto in a confident mood off the back of a 2-1 win against the Whitecaps in Vancouver a week ago. The Rapids were fortunate to see the sending off of Whitecaps midfielder Matias Laba turn the game in their favour, but they took full advantage to gain all three points at BC Place.

The Rapids were undermanned in Vancouver with four-goal Vincente Sanchez and Edson Buddle missing the trip because they didn't want to play on turf, plus defender Marvell Wynne who was suspended.

Despite the absences of key players, they were well organized against the 'Caps, led by their Spanish midfielder Jose Mari. He scored both goals, but his play throughout was very good, and his passing was exceptional with a 95% success rate. Colorado are yet to lose away from home this season, with a tie at New York to open the season and last week's win in the Pacific Northwest.

There will be a strong Toronto connection within the Rapids squad with four players having previously pulled on the Reds' jersey, Wynne, Buddle, Nathan Sturgis and Nick LaBrocca. As they return, they will find a club far different from the one they experienced during their time in Toronto. Ryan Nelsen's squad has proved it has the ability to grind out results at home or on the road, something we haven't seen from a TFC team for a very long time.



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