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TFC, new signings head to Hollywood circus

Posted on 11 April 2008 by Scott Ferguson

Toronto FC’s 0 and 2 start to the 2008 Major League Soccer season has some fans looking angrily back towards last year’s inaugural campaign, where they lost their first four matches going scoreless in the process. A 2-0 loss in Chivas last year was followed by a 4-0 rout in New England, and it was deja vu this year, with the club falling by a deuce in Columbus and looking set to lose by four at DC United. There was one crucial difference, however, as Maurice Edu popped up at the death to send a looping header past United keeper Zach Wells to make it 4-1 — a minor blip on the scoresheet, perhaps, but a moment that could resonate with the confidence of Edu and his TFC teammates.

Ahead of Sunday’s visit to LA Galaxy, Edu, who was last season’s rookie of the year, will be joined in the midfield by two new arrivals. Laurent Robert joined the club in time to take part in the DC loss and looked bright, but it was a case of being the best of a bad bunch against the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup semifinalists. Another attacking player, Amado Guevara, has been signed in time for the LA trip and is likely to slot in at the head of a five-man midfield with Edu and Carl Robinson behind him.

The Honduran midfielder, 2005 league MVP with New York Red Bull, has been playing in his native country with Motagua after falling out with Chivas USA management at the start of last season. While his temperament means that the top MLS clubs weren’t lining up to re-sign the enigmatic midfielder, the BMO Field faithful are hoping that a sold out stadium with a passionate fan base will bring the best out of Guevara. Until his signing, the club were lacking options in midfield, forced to play either a flat four or a five-man line with youngster Tyler Hemming in the center.

With the midfield set, the only question marks for the Reds relates to the starting positions at the front and back. Head coach John Carver will have to choose between Jeff Cunningham’s pace and Danny Dichio’s power at the business end of the pitch, while defenders Tyrone Marshall and Marco Velez weren’t at their best in Washington, conceding two goals in the first six minutes. The alternative, New Zealand international defender Andrew Boyens, doesn’t seem to have made an impression on Carver in preseason despite a fine 2007 campaign.
More signings could be on the way to Toronto. Former Birmingham defender Olivier Tébily has been spotted on trial in the Queen City having dinner with Robert. The French defender would offer much-needed stability to the back line, and will have been hoping to impress Carver along with fellow triallist Rohan Ricketts. The ex-Barnsley winger would fill a gap on the right side of TFC’s midfield.

For Los Angeles, starting a season with a healthy David Beckham is better than any new signing, although new arrival Carlos Ruiz has provided much-needed ammunition up front. Along with Landon Donovan, Beckham struck against traditional rivals San Jose Earthquakes last week to earn the club’s first win of 2008. LA will be looking to make it two wins from two at the Home Depot Center and pass the .500 mark after starting the season with a 4-0 loss in Colorado.

Each squad has one player who might have some inside information on the opposition. Canadian Kevin Harmse was a regular in Ruud Gullit’s Galaxy squad last season, the hard-tackling foil to Beckham and Donovan’s flair. He joined up with Toronto in the offseason, and while Harmse will miss out on the LA game after his ejection in DC, his knowledge of their tactics will almost certainly have been utilized by the TFC management. Striker Edson Buddle went in the opposite direction early last season, and much has changed at both clubs since his move, but he knows first-hand what it’s like playing alongside Danny Dichio and — from this brief spell in New York — Amado Guevara.

Much is at stake for both sides, with Toronto eager to enter their home opener on April 19th with at least one point in the bag. Finding a winning momentum early on could be the difference in TFC’s playoff hunt. For manager Gullit and his Los Angeles side, every home game means pressure to succeed in front of the HDC crowd and the world media. Much will depend on how quickly the Canadian club’s new signings adjust to life in their new surroundings, with a trial by fire awaiting them in LA.

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