There aren't a lot of stats Portland Timbers fans can point to these days to make them feel better about the next fixture on the schedule. But here's one: as a head coach (interim or otherwise), Gavin Wilkinson has never lost to Toronto FC.
Meaningless though the game might have been, that 4-1 win in October 2007 helped ease the pain that had lingered from the heartbreaking loss to the Atlanta Silverbacks the previous month, which denied Portland the opportunity to face the Seattle Sounders for the USL Championship. Current LA Galaxy player Bryan Jordan scored two for the Timbers, while UP alumnus Miguel Guante logged a goal and an assist. (We'll just ignore the contributions of a certain guest player that day.)
Yes, obviously I'd be delusional to think that had any relevance to tomorrow's match. But that's where we are.
We Timbers fans are enduring a very different kind of pain ahead of tomorrow's matchup against Toronto. You know the details. The season is lost, the vitriol is flying, our favorite players are getting traded, and there are still more than two months of the season left. And if the Timbers lose to Toronto, Portland will own the league's worst record. Oi.
For the sake of our mental health alone, we need a win. There will be few more favorable opportunities to get one than tomorrow's match against Toronto.
It's certainly no secret that Toronto FC has been in bad shape all season. After starting the season with nine straight losses, their record since has been good enough for just sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Whatever meager confidence Toronto fans might have gained from that improved showing took a serious hit when designated player Danny Koevermans tore his ACL, shutting him down for the remainder of the season.
Like Gavin Wilkinson, Toronto Coach Paul Mariner has been taking his team's hopeless situation as an opportunity to give promising younger players a chance at the starting lineup. He will be counting on his young players even more this Wednesday, as five regular players will be away on international duty. The Toronto defense will be particularly hard hit, with five defenders unavailable, including injured former Timbers right back Jeremy Hall.
The midfield, too, will see some young faces, alongside captain and designated player Torsten Frings. With Terry Dunfield away, the midfield could include both of Toronto's first round SuperDraft picks from 2012, Aaron Maund and Luis Silva, along with 21-year-old Bermudan Reggie Lambe. While Silva and Lambe have both been regulars in the lineup, Maund would be making his first start of the season.
Up front, Jamaican international Ryan Johnson will miss his first league match of the season, so Mariner will likely use a newcomer in the striker role as well, to pair up with recent acquisition Eric Hassli.
All told, the Timbers will face a Toronto squad less experienced and less accustomed to playing together than it has been all year. Heck, this Toronto squad could have even less quality than the one that lost 4-1 to the Timbers back in 2007.
Now, I have been conditioned during this dreadful season into never expecting a win, no matter the odds or the quality of the opponent. Tomorrow's game is no different; it is a road game, after all.
But considering that Toronto is arguably in an even worse position, a loss tomorrow would fall right in line with the worst losses of 2012.