TORONTO – Center back Darren O’Dea has taken a long route to make his Toronto FC debut against Sporting Kansas City at BMO Field on Saturday (4:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
He has traveled from Toronto to Dublin to Belgrade to play 90 minutes for the Republic of Ireland in a scoreless friendly against Serbia on Wednesday – only to turn right around. On Friday, he was back training with Toronto FC at Downsview Park.
“I think it was important to get the rubbish out of my legs,” O'Dea said.
The 25-year-old former Celtic man was recently signed to become the boss of the back four and it is expected that he will be paired in the center with converted right back Richard Eckersley against Sporting. TFC head coach Paul Mariner seems to like the combination.
“I think Darren and [Eckersley] will be a formidable pair,” Mariner said. “You’ve got the aerial ability from Darren and the pace in behind with Eck.”
Mariner hopes that O’Dea with his size and heading ability can improve the Reds’ defending on set pieces, which continued to be a problem in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers. Toronto conceded the first goal after a corner kick, the seventh league goal they have allowed this season off a corner.
“At the end of the day, you need to want to head the ball and put your head where it hurts,” O’Dea said. “And certainly I’ll do that and I’ll make sure everyone else is doing that.”
It's also readily apparent that the rest of his Toronto teammates are more than happy to have O'Dea take the reins.
“From the set pieces, he’s the guy who’s going to take responsibility,” goalkeeper Milos Kocic said. “He’s not going to let people jump easily and that’s exactly what we need at this moment. In this league I think games are decided on set pieces, [and] this year we lost a lot of points on [them]. We need to take responsibility, each one of us.”
O’Dea said he does not feel any added pressure in being such a focal point, and that the pressure to perform simply comes from an inner desire to succeed.
“He’s a different specimen,” Mariner said. “What it is – I’ve been saying this to the young players for quite some time – it’s all about habits. Darren has fantastic habits on the field, off the field. You can see just the way he commands himself, I think the fans are really going to take to this kid.”
Reggie Lambe, who suffered a strained knee ligament in Wednesday’s match, is expected to be out two to three weeks. Mariner said Jeremy Hall is close to returning from an ankle injury.
O’Dea, Dicoy Williams, Ryan Johnson, Terry Dunfield and Doneil Henry have all returned from international duty that kept them from playing Wednesday. Logan Emory also returns from suspension.