Toronto FC squandered an early lead and fell 2-1 to the host Charleston Battery in each team’s second match in the Carolina Challenge Cup Wednesday evening at Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, S.C.
With the loss, TFC is eliminated from contention for the tournament title heading into Saturday’s finale against D.C. United; the defending champions sport a 2-0 record in this year’s event.
Heading into a strong wind, Toronto initially struggled to break into Battery territory. But the Reds gradually went forward on the attack, and it paid off in the 14th minute when Charleston defender Nigel Marples was called for a handball on Jacob Peterson’s cross. Nathan Sturgis calmly finished the ensuing penalty kick to Battery netminder Keith Wiggans’ lower right for the early 1-0 lead.
Charleston, however, equalized shortly before halftime and then took a 2-1 lead with just over a half hour remaining in the contest.
A cross into traffic popped out to an open Dane Kelly at the penalty spot, who fired out of the reach of Reds goalkeeper Stefan Frei in the 43rd minute. Kelly then drew a penalty in the 56th minute when Mikael Yourassowsky pulled him down in the box, and while Frei saved Mike Zaher’s initial attempt, the Charleston left back put in the rebound for the game winner.
“In the first half we were playing well,” TFC coach Aron Winter said. “In the second half I don’t know what happened but we have given the game away.
“It was not that [the Battery] were so good. It was more that we didn’t do some of the things that we have to do. And that’s why it’s such a pity because in the first half we were playing well.”
The skies broke open in the shortly after Zaher’s goal. Rain came down in droves and made the playing conditions increasingly difficult for both teams. The pitch became very wet, players were slipping often and Toronto was unable to muster many significant scoring opportunities.
Both Charleston goals were somewhat against the run of play. TFC carried much possession against the USL PRO side in just its ninth day of preseason, but the Reds were haunted by their own defensive lapses. TFC lost to USL side Orlando City at the Disney Classic in February.
Winter made several changes to his starting lineup from Saturday’s contest against Chicago, moving Jacob Peterson up to forward from his normal midfield position while inserting forward Keith Makubuya, midfielder Nathan Sturgis and defenders Ty Harden and Jamaican international Dicoy Williams. Williams, who arrived into camp on Tuesday, partnered with Nana Attakora in the centre while Harden manned the right.
When asked about Williams’ performance, Winter replied: “I don’t have a comment about it.”
Earlier in the day, Toronto FC announced the signing of Javier Martina, Elbekay Bouchiba and Nick Soolsma. The decision was not unexpected, as the Dutch trio had been on trial with the club since its trip to Turkey last month.
“They are three good players,” said Winter, who also mentioned that he would like to see Martina get the ball more often.
Martina started in Wednesday’s contest, Soolsma entered in the 71st minute and Bouchiba did not feature as he is sidelined for one to two weeks with an injury.
As a preventative measure, Dwayne De Rosario was not made available for selection for the second straight game.