TORONTO -- Fresh from a weekend off and sporting player reinforcements, struggling Toronto FC returns to action Saturday against the visiting Columbus Crew.
In recent days, Toronto has added Scottish defender Steven Caldwell, American midfielder Bobby Convey and New Zealand forward Jeremy Brockie. They join 21-year-old Argentine midfielder Matias Laba, who already has two league games under his belt.
Caldwell, formerly of Birmingham City, is expected to start in central defence, possibly alongside Doneil Henry with captain Darren O'Dea shifted to left back and Ryan Richter at right back.
Brockie and Convey could see action from the bench.
Both teams need a change of fortune.
Columbus (3-4-3) has lost its last two league matches and has just one win in its last six starts.
Toronto (1-5-4) has lost four straight in all competitions during which it has been outscored 11-2. And it is suffering through an eight-game winless streak in MLS play.
The struggling club has just two wins in 12 outings in all competitions this season and is 1-15-8 in its last 24 MLS matches dating back to July 28, 2012.
"The next four games are massive now for us and they're all against teams around us," O'Dea said of upcoming games against Columbus, New England, Philadelphia and D.C. United. "It starts with (Saturday). It's early in the season but it looks like a must-win game for us."
"This team is going forward," said Welsh striker Robert Earnshaw. "We're not thinking about going sideways and thinking about what's happened in the last few weeks. It's about getting better all the time."
Toronto has dropped nine points in six matches due to goals conceded after the 80th minute. In three instances, the goals came in stoppage time.
Despite Toronto's recent rocky road, manager Ryan Nelsen says the size of the challenge of remaking the franchise has not been as big as he expected.
The coach says his club has been in almost every single game, save the season opener in Vancouver.
"You could probably say we competed and were in the game or we could have won or drawn. I didn't think I would be able to say that after 10 games," said the former New Zealand international.
"When I first came in, I knew it was a huge job. But (look at) the improvements that these guys have made over a couple of months," he added. "And this takes time. When you've had seven years of mediocrity, it's very hard to just flip it like a light switch."
But asked if Toronto is a better team than the record suggests, O'Dea said no.
"The table doesn't lie. You are where you are and that's it," said the Irish international. "But the confidence and self-belief in the team has to remain ... We just need to cut out stupid errors and we'll be higher up in the table.
Both teams come into the game with injury problems.
The Crew are missing stud defender Chad Marshall while midfielder/defender Danny O'Rourke and midfielder Agustin Viana are questionable.
Columbus will also be without forward Jairo Arrieta, suspended for two games and fined an undisclosed amount by the league for violent conduct against Colorado Rapids defender Drew Moor in a May 11 game. Arrieta got a yellow card for a swinging arm that connected with Moor's head.
Toronto, meanwhile, is missing defenders Richard Eckersley, Logan Emory, Gale Agbossoumonde and Darel Russell, and midfielders Hogan Ephraim and Terry Dunfield.
The good news is Dutch striker Danny Koevermans, a long-term injury absence after knee surgery, is due to take apart in a reserve match Saturday.
Toronto will have excellent intel on the visitors given that former Crew assistant Duncan Oughton is now on Nelsen's coaching staff.
Nelsen says the revolving door on personnel moves will keep turning if the club can improve its roster. There has been talk of the signing of a designated player in midfield in the summer.
"My job is to make this team better," the coach said.
NOTES -- Columbus has never lost at BMO Field, posting a record of 1-0-5 there. Toronto has beaten the Crew just once in 16 career meetings, a 4-2 decision in September 2011 at Columbus Crew Stadium. TFC's all-time record against the Crew is 1-8-7 ... Saturday's game marks Italian Heritage Night ... Toronto FC has Brazilian centre back Gleason Pinto dos Santos on trial. Known as Santos, he has played in Brazil, Greece and Italy ... Ephraim has confirmed he will be returning to Queens Park Rangers.