TORONTO — After a disappointing loss in Columbus that turned a five-game unbeaten streak into a three-game winless run, Toronto FC looks to climb back up the standings when it hosts the Chicago Fire and German star Bastian Schweinsteiger on Friday night.
At 3-1-2, the Fire are one of the early-season surprises in MLS. Chicago finished bottom of the league last season with a 7-17-10 record but has been a different club this year with the arrival of Serbian-born Hungarian international forward Nemanja Nikolic and Dax McCarty, Brazil's Juninho and Schweinsteiger in the midfield.
The 32-year-old Schweinsteiger, a former German captain, has two goals in three games and has yet to lose in MLS (2-0-1). Chicago arrives on the back of shutout wins over Columbus and New England.
Toronto (1-1-4) is looking to rebound from the 2-1 loss in Columbus and a string of games where it was unable to convert ties into wins.
The margin between success and failure has been narrow this season.
"You know that early on (in the season) it's still about finding ways to get points and make sure that you're moving yourself forward," captain Michael Bradley said after a wet, windy training session Thursday. "We've left a good number of points on the table, that's for sure, and obviously that doesn't sit well for us.
"But again it's early. We're right there in terms of when you do look at the table, there's a lot of teams in and around each other. And now with some games at home and as this initial part of the season ends and the games start to come a little more consistently, we want to feel like our good performances are turning into points and we're taking everything we deserve on more days."
TFC's only win this season was March 18 in Vancouver.
"We haven't been good enough in both (penalty) boxes," said defender Eriq Zavaleta. "And that's what games come down to.
"I think by and large in the middle of the field we've been pretty good. We've put our stamp on games and, by and large, been better than other teams. But at the same time if you don't execute in your own box in defending and the other's box in scoring goals, you're not going to win games. And we haven't been able to put a full team performance together.
"But we've seen flashes of really good things on both sides of the ball and we believe it's going to come."
The current homestand offers some challenges. Chicago is followed by Houston and Orlando — three teams with a combined record of 10-4-3. On the plus side for Toronto, the three have a combined road record of 0-4-1
Unbeaten at home (3-0-1), Chicago has yet to win on the road (0-1-1).
Teams have had success sitting back against Toronto, making it difficult to build on attack.
Toronto hasn't helped its cause by misfiring on offence this season, letting opponents off the hook. And it has shot itself in the foot with defensive errors.
The goals allowed in the 2-2 tie with Atlanta two weeks ago came on passes that the Toronto defence could not handle. And in Columbus, goals were conceded off a giveaway following a throw-in and a poorly defended corner.
"We have to be a little but sharper in key moments and we can't have letdowns," said coach Greg Vanney. "But I don't think there's a match that you can put up that I've watched so far that we should have been on the losing end of.
"We just have to make sure that we have that little extra tweak that is remembering exactly what it takes to win games in this league. And once we get that feeling again then I think we have every possibility of going (on) a very long run of winning lots of games."
Toronto will again be without centre back Drew Moor, sidelined by an irregular heartbeat. The diagnosis appears positive and Vanney says Moor is likely 2 1/2 weeks away from returning.
Defenders Chris Mavinga (quad) and goalkeeper Clint Irwin (hamstring) remain out. Defender Jason Hernandez returned to full training Thursday after a quad injury.
Irwin could be back training next week.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press