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Key players absent in middle of playoff race
by Ridge Mahoney, October 9th, 2008 7AM
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[MLS] TFC is last in the Eastern Conference but again ranks No. 1 among MLS teams in players called for international duty as league coaches prepare for crucial games. Toronto isn't in the same absurd position as it was during the last FIFA international fixture window, when no less than nine players were summoned and it fielded one of its scouts and a few other short-term emergency signings in a 3-1 loss to Chivas USA. But it will be missing five players this time around to play Dallas on Saturday. Several other teams, including the Los Angeles Galaxy, have been hit call-ups for World Cup qualifying as they aim for playoff spots.

Midfielders Kevin Harmse, Carl Robinson and Amado Guevara, defender Tyrone Marshall, and forward Carlos Ruiz left the TFC squad after a 3-1 thumping of New York on Saturday night and will not be available. Instead, several of them will face off as opponents.

Harmse is a member of Canada's squad that is training in Florida for games against Honduras and teammate Guevara Saturday in San Pedro Sula, and against Mexico in Edmonton next week. Guevara re-joins the Honduran team as its captain and after the match with Canada he will possibly square off against Marshall, who has been called in by Jamaica, which plays in Kingston against Mexico on Saturday and Honduras next Wednesday.

Ruiz is with Guatemala, which hosts Trinidad & Tobago Saturday and plays at Cuba next Wednesday. The TFC list would have been six, but Trinidad & Tobago defender Julius James, named to the original national-team squad 10 days ago, has been scratched because of a hamstring injury.

The most critical shortage is felt by Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, probably deprived of Landon Donovan and David Beckham (England) for sure for a match Sunday against Colorado at Home Depot Center. While it's possible Donovan could be released after the U.S. plays Cuba Saturday in Washington, D.C., Arena can't count on him being available, or being able to contribute much if he makes it back by game time.

The Rapids won't be at full strength, either. Not only is forward Conor Casey suspended because of the red card he received last weekend, Senegalese goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul and Jamaican striker Omar Cummings are on international duty. Preston Burpo has been the starter in goal recently anyway, but Colorado's offense may sputter without both Cummings and Casey, who hit a hat trick in a 5-4 broiling of New York a week and a half ago and scored against Houston Saturday before being ejected in a 3-1 defeat.

The conference leaders, Columbus and Houston, will be shorthanded but not significantly so. Venezuelan striker Alejandro Moreno and U.S. defender Frankie Hejduk will miss the Crew's Eastern Conference match against Chicago in Columbus on Saturday. Danny O'Rourke is the probable replacement at right back and Pat Noonan is just one of several possibilities to take Moreno's spot.

Forward Brian Ching could get back to Houston in time for Sunday's game against D.C. after the U.S. plays Cuba if he's released by Coach Bob Bradley. Midfielder Dwyane De Rosario is suspended for Canada's match against Honduras Saturday and so can play for the Dynamo this weekend, but will not be available on Wednesday, when the Dynamo hosts San Jose in the make-up of a suspended game.

Houston, leading the Western Conference by four points, needs results to stave off runner-up Chivas USA. If Chivas USA loses Saturday and it wins Sunday, the Dynamo clinches the conference title and homefield advantage. The teams will meet on the final day of the season at Home Depot Center.

Chivas USA, which can clinch a playoff spot by winning, will travel to San Jose without U.S. midfielder Sacha Kljestan and Jamaican defender Shavar Thomas. Preki can use rookie defender Bobby Burling in Thomas's spot and may field another Sasha, Victorine, in place of Kljestan.


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