Fully healthy and finally rolling, Toronto FC is poised to make a move up the Eastern Conference standings and will look to exploit a severely struggling Houston Dynamo side Saturday at BMO Field.
The Reds (8-5-8) are seeking their first three-match winning streak since opening the season with the maximum nine points and coming off a 3-1 victory over the Red Bulls on Wednesday night. Jozy Altidore opened the scoring with a deft backheel flick on a cross by Tsubasa Endoh, and substitute Ashtone Morgan picked an ideal spot for his first goal, sealing the victory on 72 minutes after dispossessing New York defender Michael Murillo and slotting past Luis Robles from close range.
“Once a year, this guy comes out of nowhere and scores an important goal,” Altidore told the Toronto Sun about Morgan, who had made just two starts this season prior to the game. “Ash is a guy you can always count on, he’s always ready, 100 percent professional, team player. It’s a pleasure to have guys like that.”
Altidore has scored in both his matches since returning from international duty with the U.S. at the Gold Cup. Alejandro Pozuelo, who scored the second TFC goal on a first-half penalty, is a doubt for this match after being forced off on 63 minutes due to a calf injury. Reds coach Greg Vanney gave summer signing Omar Gonzalez his first start at center back, and he teamed with Laurent Ciman in the spine of Toronto’s back line.
Toronto is 3-1-1 in its last five matches after claiming just three points during an eight-game winless spell. The Reds are sixth in the East on 29 points, ahead of New York City FC on goal difference, but also only four points out of second.
Houston (8-3-9) is currently on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, two points behind FC Dallas for the seventh and final spot. But the Dynamo are reeling – they have dropped three straight and have only one victory in their last nine matches (1-1-7) after being thumped 5-0 at reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta on Wednesday.
Alberth Elis succumbed to the red mist in the sixth minute, making light but clear contact with referee Chris Penso protesting his booking after booting the ball out of play following his foul on Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. That left the Dynamo a man short for the remaining 84 minutes, and it quickly went from bad to worse as Houston gave up two goals two minutes apart just before the half-hour.
The defense was picked apart for three more goals in the second 45 minutes as the Dynamo suffered their eighth consecutive road loss – they have been outscored 20-4 in those defeats and led for just 26 of a possible 720 minutes.
Elis will serve his ban in this match, though the Dynamo’s attack should otherwise be at full strength since usual starters Romell Quioto and Mauro Manotas played limited minutes as second-half substitutes as part of coach Wilmer Cabrera’s personnel rotations with the mid-week match. Houston has conceded two or more goals in six of its last seven games after doing so just twice in the first 13.
The Dynamo ran out 5-1 winners in the lone meeting last year as Quioto set up goals by Manotas and Elis before bagging one himself. Houston is 3-4-4 all-time at Toronto FC.
(Jozy Altidore photo courtesy Toronto FC official Twitter account)