Toronto FC is off to the worst start in franchise history, but it hopes to receive a lift from the return of its captain this weekend.
Midfielder Torsten Frings is expected back in the lineup Saturday when Toronto hosts a Chicago Fire team that will be without Chris Rolfe, who was signed this week to spark a struggling offense.
Toronto's early woes continued with a 1-0 loss to Chivas USA last Saturday - the third time it's been shut out this year - as the club dropped to 0-5.
That surpasses the worst start in franchise history, set in Toronto's first season of 2007. That team avoided a fifth straight loss to open the season with a home victory over Chicago.
Toronto hopes history can repeat itself this weekend, but the club has struggled on both ends of the pitch, getting outscored 10-2 in MLS play and 20-9 in all matches.
Coach Aron Winter has tried to shake things up, moving highly paid but struggling designated player Julian de Guzman to the bench. He did not see any playing time against Chivas.
"You're making choices for the balance of the team," Winter said. "Only 11 players can be in the lineup."
Frings is expected to be one of those Saturday. He dressed last weekend for the first time since straining a hamstring March 17.
"He makes the rest of the players around him play more at ease, more confident," said defenseman Adrian Cann, who returned last weekend from a torn ACL that kept him out for much of last season. "Playing alongside him, it feels nice knowing that he has the experience and knows what to do with the ball once he receives it."
The injury news wasn't all good this week, however, with forward Nick Soolsma out Saturday due to a sore hamstring.
Frings' return comes against fellow German international Arne Friedrich, who recently signed a one-year deal with Chicago and made his MLS debut last week.
The Fire (1-1-2) signed Friedrich, a veteran of two World Cups, during the offseason, but he wasn't in game shape until the past week. His addition to the lineup came as the Fire learned they'd be without Cory Gibbs for the next four months after he underwent knee surgery.
Chicago is off to a poor start as well, with its only win coming against Philadelphia on March 24. It settled for a 1-all draw with Houston on Sunday in a match shortened 66 minutes due to lightning.
Looking for an offensive boost with three goals on the year, Chicago brought back one of the franchise's all-time players in Rolfe, who last played with the Fire in 2009. The forward, who had 40 goals in 149 matches for Chicago over 2005-09, had been playing for Denmark's Aalborg, scoring six goals in 32 matches over three seasons.
However, Rolfe's return has been delayed after he suffered a minor ankle injury in training this week.
"I'm disappointed not to be ready for Toronto," Rolfe said. "But ... I'm working to be back very soon."
Chicago has gone 1-0-2 in its last three against Toronto, posting two shutouts. The teams played to a 2-all draw in Toronto last year.