Toronto FC enter their busiest month of the Major League Soccer season sitting in a great position. With 20 points from their first 12 matches they are fourth in the Eastern Conference. They are within striking distance of the summit, with multiple games in hand on the teams above them as they head to the Windy City to face the Chicago Fire on Wednesday night, live on TSN and TSN Radio 1050.
The Reds conceded a late goal to drop a couple of points in New York on Friday in their first game back from the World Cup break, but the 2-2 draw at Red Bull Arena extended their unbeaten run to five matches, their longest run without a defeat in almost two years.
It is six years since the only other time Toronto FC managed to take 20 points from their first 12 matches. Last year it took until their 22nd match to reach that mark. So there is much to be positive about as the Reds look to climb the standings during a hectic month ahead.
During their five match unbeaten run, Toronto FC have won three home games and drawn twice away from home. Both of their ties on the road came against teams that are expected to be challenging for the playoffs come the end of the season. First, they showed resilience to fight back late in the game despite being a man down at defending champions Sporting Kansas City, and then last Friday the late goal went against them as they drew 2-2 in New York.
For far too many seasons in Major League Soccer, Toronto FC have traveled away and shown very little ability to collect points. But things have changed. Yes there have been a couple of dismal days this season like the defeat at Real Salt Lake, but there have also been wins at Seattle and Columbus as well as the recent draws. This is a team that now has the quality and belief to go anywhere in MLS and get a positive result.
The Big Question:
Will Jermain Defoe keep scoring? Defoe now has eight goals in nine MLS appearances and there's no reason to believe his goal-scoring touch will disappear anytime soon.
Toronto FC paid mega bucks to sign him from Tottenham Hotspur in January, and so far Defoe has been worth every cent. His movement and instinct in-front of goal is as good as any other player in Major League Soccer. He took his goal superbly against New York Red Bulls and has now scored in each of his last three matches. He has five goals in his last five MLS games. With Defoe on the pitch, Toronto FC are in every game.
With Gilberto struggling with a hip flexor injury, it could be an unchanged lineup for Ryan Nelsen's men. The Brazilian seems to be the only injury concern for Nelsen right now, and until Michael Bradley returns from the World Cup, the eleven against New York is pretty much as strong as it gets for Toronto.
Dominic Oduro made his first start for the club against the Red Bulls following his move from Columbus and is likely to start against his former team. Oduro looked lively for the Reds and set up Defoe for TFC's first goal. With Collen Warner, Jonathan Osorio and Jackson completing the midfield, there is plenty of MLS experience. The mid-season additions of Warner and Oduro have really strengthened the Reds' midfield. With Gilberto expected to miss out, Defoe and Moore should once again start as the pairing up front.
Under new head coach Frank Yallop, it has been a slow start to the season for Chicago Fire. The former Canadian international joined the Fire at the end of last season but his side has found it tough to win games in the opening quarter of the year. They haven't lost many, but they head into Wednesday's game sitting bottom of the Eastern Conference.
The Fire have secured 14 points from 14 matches, with just two wins, but they have drawn eight times. They lost their final match before the World Cup break 3-2 at home to Seattle Sounders, and will now be without defender Jon Kennedy Hurtado who was sent off in that match.
Chicago are without a win in their last four matches since securing impressive victories at New York (5-4) and home to Sporting KC (2-1). Former Toronto FC forward Quincy Amarikwa is having a good season and is the Fire's joint leading scorer along with rookie Harry Ship, who scored both goals in the loss to Seattle. Yallop's team can also call upon Major League Soccer's reigning MVP Mike Magee.
The history books are on Chicago's side. Toronto FC are without a win in their last eight matches against the Fire dating back to May 2010, and the Reds have never won in Chicago on their seven previous visits. In fact, in 16 all-time meetings, TFC have won just three times.
But if there was ever a time for Toronto to put things right in Chicago, it is now. Toronto's road form is much improved over past seasons and the Fire have been inconsistent so far this season. However, the wise money would be on a scoring draw.
Where To Watch:
Join me with Jason de Vos and Kara Lang for Chicago Fire against Toronto FC live on TSN on Wednesday at 8:30pm ET, 5:30pm PT.