TFC has very little time to fix its defensive problems

Geovanny Caicedo

Toronto FC’s brass made a decision not to prepare for the season like the other MLS teams do. While other teams have been playing preseason games for weeks, TFC had been bunkered in Toronto.

Now, after Toronto played just its second preseason game — a 2-2 draw against third-division side Orlando City at the Walt Disney World Classic — there will be those who wonder if the lack of preseason game action will help or hurt TFC long-term.

That’s because the Reds need to transform two new South American central defenders, Geovanny Caicedo and Miguel Aceval, into a solid partnership. Neither player’s English is strong. And, what’s more troubling, is that on Saturday they looked like they need a heck of a lot longer than a week and a half to become a solid central defensive partnership.

While Aceval will take credit for the equalizing goal, a left-footed free kick that caromed off the arm of Orlando defender Anthony Pulis, he and Caicedo had a few lapses in the first half of the match, including a comedy of errors that led to John Rooney’s penalty-kick opener.

Caicedo lasted just the first 45 minutes, before being replaced by draft pick Aaron Maund.

Before Orlando City scored, striker Maxwell Griffin had a decent chance, because Caicedo left too much space, and Griffin’s simple run allowed him to get past the back line. Aceval was able to come over from the left to help, and Griffin’s only real shot was to put it into the midsection of Reds’ keeper Stefan Frei.

But, in the 17th minute, Rooney opened the scoring thanks to some diabolical work from the TFC central defence pair. Aceval got caught in possession deep in his own zone. Maxwell plucked the ball away, and Caicedo’s awkward challenge in the box was about as subtle as an Oliver Stone movie.

Caicedo and Aceval actually undid a very positive start from the Reds, who looked very much a team that plays two division above its opposition through the first 10 minutes. The Reds dominated possession, and almost looked as if they were intent on making sure every one of the 10 outfield players got as many touches as possible.

After Maund came in at halftime, the Reds’ defence didn’t settle. Forward Charlie Campbell got behind the back line and then squared a ball to winger Kevin Molino, who banged OC’s second goal in past Frei on a second chance.

And, after Designated Player Torsten Frings tied the game off a pass from Canadian Terry Dunfield, OC sub Dennis Chin had a breakaway that Frei did well to snatch off the striker’s feet.

And Frei had to make a late diving stop on a fizzing free kick from Haitian midfielder Jerome Mechack to preserve the draw for the Reds.

Orlando City is the best team in USL, but let’s be clear… this is a team we’d expect to see the likes of FC Edmonton and the Minnesota Stars beat more times than not. And TFC, just a week and a half from having to face the likes of Los Angeles Galaxy stars Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle and Robbie Keane in he CONCACAF Champions League, was giving up chance after chance after chance to Orlando City.

It was technical director and head coach Aron Winter and staff’s call to not play a lot of preseason games. And, with just a few Disney games left to go, the backline looked just as suspect as it did last season. And, if the Reds were so vulnerable against a third-division side, how would anyone fancy their chances against the MLS champs?

It would be easy to say “this is just a preseason game.” But TFC has very little time left to get things right.

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About Steven Sandor

I'm currently the colour commentator for FC Edmonton broadcasts on Sportsnet, NASL.com and TEAM 1260. I've covered the Toronto FC beat for four years, worked for the Edmonton Aviators of the USL for a season, covered the Edmonton Drillers of the NPSL and started covering Canadian World Cup qualifiers in 1996. I've covered the CONCACAF Champions League and the U-20 World Cup. I'm passionate about soccer in North America.