Toronto set to "smash and grab" in attack vs. Timbers

Paul Mariner (TOR - POR)

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TORONTO – Toronto FC’s attacking plan on Wednesday will be simple: smash and grab.

With Ryan Johnson – who has played every minute of Toronto's 22 games so far this year – away on international duty, Eric Hassli will take up the role of "smash" and Luis Silva will "grab" when the Reds take on the Portland Timbers at BMO Field (7:30 pm ET, TSN/RDS in Canada, MLS Live in the US).

Head coach Paul Mariner made the "smash and grab" comparison at training Tuesday, referring to 1970s Bristol Rovers attacking duo of Alan Warboys ("Smash," a rugged center forward)  and Bruce Bannister ("Grab," a smaller, opportunistic type), who developed a cult following in England.

“I sort of liken them to those two,” Mariner said. “Eric Hassli‘s skills are highly underrated, I feel. He’s got fantastic feet on him for a big guy. His holdup play is superb and his aerial ability.

“But what you get with Luis, I just feel that now that he’s playing constantly he seems to be in a rhythm. He seems to get in a position where he’s almost unplayable because he gets so much respect for his first touch, his first touch is so good, that teams have backed off him a little bit and he’s able to find that space. So now he has time and space.”

This will be Hassli’s first start for TFC at BMO Field after he was obtained in a trade with Vancouver on July 20 and recovered from an ankle injury.

And though Mariner is happy to add Hassli to the lineup, he will also have to deal with a slew of absences.

Midfielder Terry Dunfield and defender Doneil Henry are with the Canadian national, defender Dicoy Williams joins Johnson on Jamaica duty, and newly acquired defender Darren O’Dea is with the Republic of Ireland, though Mariner isn't complaining.

“I always want our players to play for their national teams whether it’s Canada or whoever it is,” he enthused.

In addition to international absences, defender Logan Emory is suspended for the game for a red card received in the team's 2-1 loss at Chicago on Aug. 4 and another defender, Jeremy Hall, is out with an ankle injury. Midfielder Matt Stinson, who also has played as a defender, is out with a thigh injury.

The various absences mean regulars Ashtone Morgan and Richard Eckersley will man the full back spots with Adrian Cann and Ty Harden both returning from injury to square off against the likes of Kris Boyd in the center of defense. Meanwhile, defender Aaron Maund will move up into Dunfield’s defensive midfield role, with Eric Avila also expected to start in midfield.

“It does upset the rhythm there’s no two ways about that,” Mariner said of all the changes. “Boyd is a fantastic center forward, holds the ball, up extremely well, is a really big guy and can score goals.

"It’s going to be a difficult night but I just feel what we’ve got to do, as I’ve been saying for quite some time, is impose our system on their system. We can’t afford to make any errors.”