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Toronto desperate to avoid record book but it won't be easy against Real Salt Lake

04/26/2012 01:55 EDT | Updated 06/26/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Six games into the season, Toronto FC's search for an elusive first point takes it next to Real Salt Lake where it hopes to avoid entering the MLS record books for the league's worst start.

For players like Ryan Johnson and Richard Eckersley, it's been a miserable journey to date.

"I think about it every day," Johnson said of the team's six-game losing streak. "Like at some point, it just pops into my mind.

"It weighs on you a lot. To get this off our backs would be a huge relief for me personally."

Each defeat adds to the burden, added Johnson, whose run of bad luck in front of goal has included everything but a plague of locusts or lightning strike.

Eckersley also said the string of losses wears "massively" on him.

"We think about it all week," said the fiery English defender. "We just want to get to the next game and try to change it. It's grinding on the players a little bit because we know we're better than 0-6."

The 1999 Kansas City Wizards hold the record for worst start at 0-7-0.

In contrast to his players, Aron Winter says he isn't thinking about the record because "we're going to Salt Lake to get a point, at least."

"The turnaround is coming," added the Dutch manager, as upbeat as ever.

Immensely personable and positive, Winter is the type to organize a 'count the iceberg' competition on the Titanic while trying to steer the ship away from the inevitable collision.

"We're going there to get a good result," Winter said of Real Salt Lake (5-3-1). "At least get one point. And the team spirit is good."

It won't be easy Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.

In his second season at the helm, Winter has just one league road win to his credit.

Real's league record at home is 33-5-13 since the start of the 2009 season. Toronto's away record over the same time is 6-29-14.

Winless in three games, Real will also be in defiant mood despite standing second in the Western Conference to Toronto's 10th in the East.

The team feels hard done by in terms of the penalty awarded against it in a 1-1 tie in Dallas on Wednesday night.

"I am again disappointed in another referee’s decision," said Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis.

The game before that, Real had two men sent off and gave up two goals in second-half stoppage time in a 3-1 loss at San Jose. Before that, Real lost 1-0 in Kansas City to the league's top team.

Toronto will have to turn around its fortunes without forwards Danny Koervermans (groin) and Nick Soolsma (hamstring).

At training Friday, Winter signalled a change in returning Torsten Frings to his role as defensive midfielder from his recent post in the backline.

A back four of Ashtone Morgan, Logan Emory, Adrian Cann and Eckersley protected Milos Kocic in goal.

The midfield featured Frings, Julian de Guzman and Terry Dunfield behind an attacking arrowhead of Eric Avila, Johnson and Reggie Lambe.

Winter says his message to his players is to stay confident and believe in each other.

Tactically, Winter says the team has to play more compact, "try to give nothing away, don't take risks anymore."

"If we can't play football, then we don't play football at that moment."

Translation? If something nasty is about to hit the fan, boot the ball down the field rather than look for a pretty pass.

Toronto FC has paid the price for giveaways and defensive errors, with Kocic too often having to pick the ball out of his own net. The team has given up three goals on three occasions already in league play.

Despite the rocky start, de Guzman says TFC has stuck together in the dressing room.

"At the end of the day, the group of guys that I've been working with have kept their heads up throughout this tough moment," said the veteran midfielder. "And I think they've shown great character and we're determined to put ourselves back on the map."

Johnson added to that, saying players have not been shy about expressing their views.

"It happens, but it's behind closed doors. It's in our locker-room, between our players," he said. "There have been guys raising their voices with each other. There has been discontent.

"We're passionate about the game and we don't want to be in this position. We're tying to do everything we can to be out of this position."

Johnson said the team keeps it private and professional, rather than personal.

"We have each other's backs."

But they don't have points, despite the fact that four of their first six games have been in the friendly confines of BMO Field.

Winter has insisted that his team can still make the playoffs — which would be a first for the franchise.

MLS.com put that to the test with some number-crunching.

Using last year's standings as a benchmark, it concluded 46 points are needed to make the playoffs. To achieve that over 34 games, a team has to average 1.35 points an outing.

Out of 58 teams with six points or fewer after six games, only 15 managed that 1.35 PPG mark by the end of the season. The good news for Toronto is they include D.C. United's championship teams of 1996 and 2004.

And defending MLS champion Columbus posted the league's best record in 2009 despite not winning until its eighth game.

NOTES — Toronto FC has forward John Owoeri on trial. The Nigerian worked out for the Montreal Impact earlier in the season.

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