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Toronto FC faces tough task under dome as Sporting Kansas City comes to visit

03/08/2013 03:58 EST | Updated 05/08/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Toronto FC fans get a firsthand look Saturday at their new-look team in its MLS home opener against Sporting Kansas City under the Rogers Centre dome.

Of course, the league's worst franchise in 2012 is still under heavy construction.

Toronto (0-1-0) has announced the signing of seven new players in the last 10 days, with the latest being former English teenage phenom John Bostock.

More are likely on their way to Toronto, which is undergoing a major-league makeover in the wake of a dreadful 5-21-8 season.

"No, we're a long way off," manager Ryan Nelsen said when asked about he was getting close to the final product on the field. "It doesn't mean that I'm not happy but from where I see the team in a certain amount of time from now, we'll be different. We'll play different, we'll be a different animal.

"Does that mean we can't win against Kansas City? Of course, we can win against Kansas City."

Fourteen players have left the club since last season with 13 newcomers arriving. Five of those new faces are expected to feature in Saturday's starting 11 against Kansas City (1-0-0).

Returning defender Darren O'Dea says the turnover has actually been quite smooth.

"At the minute it's not difficult because they're bringing in quality and they're replacing players that didn't have quality," the Irish international said bluntly.

"It's not difficult to play with good players," he added.

But injuries will prevent Nelsen from fielding his strongest side Saturday.

Attacking midfielder Luis Silva (hamstring), defensive midfielder Julio Cesar (calf strain) and forward Justin Braun (concussion) are expected to miss out.

The unforgiving artificial turf at Rogers Centre does not help the cause of Silva and Cesar.

Starting goalie Stefan Frei practised this week wearing a protective mask to shield his surgically repaired nose. But given his lack of game time, he will likely be given another week to recover with backup Joe Bendik getting the start.

Nelsen's starting lineup in practice Friday was Bendik behind a back four of Ashtone Morgan, O'Dea, John Califf and Richard Eckersley. The midfield was Jeremy Hall and Terry Dunfield flanked by Reggie Lambe and Bostock with Hogan Ephraim playing behind striker Robert Earnshaw.

Friday's session was heavy on instruction with Nelsen talking to his players seemingly about keeping their shape when the opposition has the ball.

Both Toronto and Sporting Kansas City are working on record runs.

Toronto is winless in 15 league outings, dating back to July 28 last season when it beat Colorado 2-1. That's just three matches away from the MLS record set by Real Salt Lake in 2005-06.

Kansas City, in contrast, is undefeated in 13 straight MLS regular season matches — one shy of the club record.

History suggests both streaks will still be alive after Saturday's game.

Toronto is 0-2-5 in its last seven matches against Kansas City, with its last win coming in April 2009 at BMO Field.

Sporting have won the last four meetings, including all three last season.

Nelsen and many of his players didn't play a role in Toronto FC's recent dismal history. But Nelsen is not turning his back on the franchise's futility.

"No, we have to address certain things. The culture and the identity of the club is one of them," he said. "And we have to set a culture in a team that doesn't accept that and won't accept that. Whether we can turn that around this week or two weeks or five weeks, all I can say is this team will be an extremely different animal when we move forward."

Saturday's game marks the first MLS regular-season action at Rogers Centre. Toronto hosted the Los Angeles Galaxy there in a CONCACAF Champions league quarter-final at the start of last season.

Toronto also hosted Liverpool there last summer in the World Football Challenge.

Kansas City led the Eastern Conference last season with an 18-7-9 record and 63 points, 40 points ahead of Toronto, before being eliminated in Eastern Conference semifinals by Houston.

Kansas City also boasted the league's stingiest defence in 2012, giving up 27 goals. Toronto yielded a league-worst 62, passing the 27 mark in just 13 games.

Kansas City team lost two key components in the off-season in striker Kei Kamara (Norwich City) and midfielder Roger Espinoza (Wigan Athletic).

Signed to fill the holes were Argentine designated player Claudio Bieler and U.S. international Benny Feilhaber.

After cutting the 34-year-old Cesar in the off-season, Kansas City is looking at 20-year-old Spanish defensive midfielder Oriol Rosell to take his place. Rosell has spent time in the Barcelona youth system.

Kansas City rallied on the road to defeat the Philadelphia Union 3-1 last week with Graham Zusi scoring one goal and setting up the other two.

Toronto is coming off a 1-0 loss in Vancouver.

NOTES — Toronto's Kyle Bekker was back in training Friday after two days of battling the flu.

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