BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Despite the obvious attacking threat posed by DPs Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley, Chicago Fire captain Jeff Larentowicz insisted Toronto FC boast “many weapons” ahead of their clash at BMO Field on Saturday (7 pm ET, MLS Live).
The Canadians held the Fire to a 1-1 tie at Toyota Park the last time the sides met in July, although USMNT skipper Bradley did not feature because of his participation at the World Cup.
“They’ve got many weapons, they’re probably one of the highest team speeds of any team in the league, they’ve got pace in a lot of places and that’s something that can cause problems,” Larentowicz told reporters at Toyota Park this week.
“Even without him (Bradley) when we played them here they were very dangerous, so it’s not just about [Bradley],” Larentowicz stressed. “He’s an outstanding player, when he’s been playing for them they’re a very good team, a very dangerous team. If I’m in there against him it’ll be a good battle, I look forward to it, and if not I’ll be dealing with another part of the team.”
While the main threat will come from fit-again top scorer Defoe, who has registered an impressive 11 goals in 15 games, fellow forwards Luke Moore and Gilberto have been in decent form during Defoe’s recent three-game absence through injury.
Fire midfielder Razvan Cocis is also wary of the considerable threat posed by a Toronto team that looks well poised to claim their first playoff berth on the back of a 9-8-5 record that puts them third in the Eastern Conference on 32 points, 10 points behind leaders Sporting KC and seven clear of second from bottom Chicago (4-6-13, 25 pts).
“It is a challenge,” the Romanian said ahead of the game. “We’ll be playing against a good team and every time you play against a good team you have a higher motivation, so while we prepare ourselves for all the games, we need to take them one by one. So next it’s Toronto, they’re a good team with good players so we will focus on them.”
Patrick Nyarko (knee sprain) is the only doubt for head coach Frank Yallop, and although top scorer Mike Magee only trained lightly early in the week, he is expected to overcome a calf problem and should feature yet again.
Yallop is, however, boosted by the expected availability of new signing Robert Earnshaw, who could make his Fire debut against his former club after arriving from the UK on Wednesday.
The Welsh international striker, who scored eight goals in 26 games for Toronto in 2013, is believed to be close to peak condition and is expected to play some part against his old club, where he is looking forward to taking care of some unfinished business.
“I’m hoping [to play a part],” the 33-year-old free agent signing said. “For me it’s obviously a huge game. First game for Chicago and could be against my old team. I’m very close to Toronto as well because moving from the other side of the world, I’ve played most of my career in the UK and the support I got there was unbelievable. I never got a chance to say a goodbye and thank you so it will be a ‘Welcome, Chicago’ and also ‘Goodbye, Toronto’ at the same time. That’s going to be nice.”
Shane Murray covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com.