BUFFERY: Struggling Reds have to figure out a way to sink the Crew

New York Red Bulls midfielder Caden Clark (right) battles for the ball against Toronto FC defender Omar Gonzalez during their game last week.

The Reds are feeling pretty blue about the winless streak they find themselves on to start the 2021 MLS season.

“We’re not sore losers, but we’re bad losers,” Toronto FC coach Chris Armas said. “(Not winning) doesn’t sit well with anyone over here. So no matter what, it’s three points. That’s the focus (on Wednesday’s match). You can expect our guys to go after it in a big way.”

To defeat the defending MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew on Wednesday night at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium (a TFC ‘home’ match), the Reds will have to come up big. TFC has struggled in MLS play so far this season, largely a result of injury woes and the fact that the players are still adapting to Armas’ new high-press, high-energy system.

TFC’s one point through three matches is the worst start for the club since 2012, when the Reds lost their first nine matches, an MLS record.

The Torontonians, who play out of Florida because of the COVID-19 pandemic, have scored four goals in its three MLS games. On Saturday, TFC was dominated in a 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls.

Columbus, on the other hand, is unbeaten in eight straight matches (W6, D2), including last year’s playoffs and has conceded only four goals in that time. The Crew has a plus-two goal differential in three MLS games this season while TFC is minus-four.

There is good and bad news for TFC fans heading into the match. The bad news is familiar: Star attacking midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo will not be available, again.

But, after weeks of mystery, Armas finally identified the Spaniard’s problem — a quad injury suffered before the pre-season game against Columbus on April 1.

“It was a strange one just because … it’s a quad injury, some soft tissue, a tendon in his quad and it doesn’t give him much pain but we know it’s there. So we don’t want something that is relatively minor — just needs time to heal — to become something bigger,” Armas said. “The good thing right now is he’s training on his own with our fitness coach and performance team and he’s doing lots of stuff with the ball and running and no pain. He wants to be out there. He’s getting close, guys. I know I keep saying that, but I think in the next days we can expect him back into training.”

Veteran midfielder Jonathan Osorio is also not expected to be available.

On the other hand, forward Jozy Altidore, who seems hurt more often than he is well, is back to full training after being sick last week.

Armas will also have new DP Yeferson Soteldo and new defender Kemar Lawrence — a former MLS Best XI (2018) and MLS all-star (2019) — in the lineup on Wednesday.

Soteldo did come on for the final 34 minutes in the loss to the Red Bulls on Saturday and did show some flashes of brilliance, though he seemed to be a lone wolf on the attack at times.

“He’s going to be ready for more minutes (on Wednesday),” Armas said. “He’s up for it. I think when you see him you’ll see some more space there for him and with other players on the field that can help him. It can’t just be on one guy. That’s not the way works.”

As for Lawrence, Armas coached him for a time with the Red Bulls and said the Jamaican international is a big gain for TFC.

“We think he’s best in a back four where he’s the left back. I’ve used him in the left of a back three and he’s more than comfortable,” the coach said. “He’s an intelligent player and he’s versatile. When he’s out there, there’s a certain presence that he has and he brings, as we say, bite. He brings an intensity and aggressiveness that I think we need on our backline.”

Perhaps the Reds can take some solace in the fact that they defeated Columbus 4-2 in the pre-season match this year.

“We’re going after it,” Armas said. “Focus on set pieces, focus on every action with the ball. We want to win. We know the year they had last year and we got to watch them in Champions League. They’re a top team obviously. They’re built in possession. They’re organized in all ways, there’s a lot of belief on that team. It’s a deep squad and well coached. It’s a big challenge and we love the challenge. For sure, it lets you know exactly where you are. Our goal is to past that test.”

In a Zoom call with the media on Tuesday, Armas remained cool and collected when grilled about his team, though you have to wonder how long that coolness will last if the Reds keep struggling.

“I live in urgency. I’m always thinking it’s a must-win. So therefore the work everyday becomes very detailed-orientated and work-orientated, thinking of scenarios, turning over every stone, thinking about different formations, different guys that could factor in. We’re always thinking of those things,” he said. “And sometimes you just need to make it happen, get three points and things start feeling a little better.

“It’s early. 31 games left, right? And we’re getting stronger every day.”


According to ESPN soccer correspondent Jeff Carlisle, the U.S. men’s national team submitted its 40-man provisional roster for the Concacaf Nations League, a group that doesn’t include the TFC duo of Altidore and Michael Bradley … TFC placed midfielder Griffin Dorsey on waivers. Dorsey was drafted in the first round (sixth overall) of the 2019 MLS SuperDraft and played two games for TFC (22 for TFC II).

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