Playing against a Seattle Sounders team that had something to prove after it received a 6-1 hiding from Santos Laguna CONCACAF Champions League action, TFC reminded its supporters that its back line is still too slow, too disorganized.
David Estrada scored three times as the Sounders won its MLS home opener 3-1 in front of more than 38,000 fans, but this was far more than one player having a good day. It was a case of a Seattle Sounders — a team which doesn’t have the star power of the Los Angeles Galaxy but plays at a much faster pace — running TFC’s back line ragged.
And, when TFC — already down 1-0 — lost Torsten Frings to injury after he was forced to make a last ditch saving tackle after TFC’s high line had been unlocked, the soft underbelly lost its armour. Frings had been successfully utilized as a sweeper to try and mask Toronto FC’s defensive defencies through Toronto’s two-legged CCL triumph over the Galaxy; without Frings, the Reds were left exposed.
TFC coach Aron Winter made several changes to the lineup after Wednesday’s win in Los Angeles; the newly signed Logan Emory replaced Ashtone Morgan at left back, while striker Danny Koevermans and attacker Joao Plata were also left on the bench (even though the two would later come in as subs). Midfielder Julian de Guzman also was left out.
But even with Emory, who was in NASL last season, at left back, Seattle chose to run attack after attack towards right back Richard Eckersley, running Alvaro Fernandez and Mauro Rosales down that side. And within 15 minutes, the Sounders got their reward. Fernandez sprinted towards and around Ty Harden. Eckersley came to help, but Fernandez had struck a low cross into the middle of the box. At this point, Eckersley quit on the play, choosing to watch rather than choosing to try and chase the play to the middle of the box. The ball bounded about, Estrada then took it and controlled, stepped around defenders and keeper Milos Kocic, and then slid the ball into the net.
Right after Frings was forced to leave, Estrada should have made it two, as he was sprung behind the back — TFC chose again, like it did against L.A., to play a high line — but put a shot right into Kocic’s hands.
Ryan Johnson, TFC’s best offensive threat (again), made a marvelous attempt to equalize before halftime. His leaping attempt was headed over Sounders’ keeper Michael Gspurning, but found the bar. Johnson — who scored in each of the two CCL legs against the Galaxy, would be heard from again.
Rookie Aaron Maund, brought in to cover Frings’ spot, was victimized early in the second, when a pass from Marc Burch sprung Estrada past the defensive line, and Estrada smashed his second past Kocic.
With Seattle well in front, the excellent Johnson delivered a sucker punch for the Reds in the 62nd minutes, striking a lofted effort from outside the box that caromed off of Gspurning’s right post and into the goal.
But a minute after Johnson scored, Estrada had his hat trick. Terry Dunfield had slid back to the right side to give Eckersley help. Estrada had the ball out on the wing, beat Dunfield and then completed a quick give-and-go with Fernandez that had Eckersley rooted in his spot. For the second time in the game, Estrada finished a chance while Eckersley stood still.
Koevermans, after coming in as a sub, had one decent chance, a low drive that Gspurning saved with his feet. But, for the last 20 minutes, Seattle looked more likely to score its fourth than TFC its second.
Yes, the Reds could argue that they played on Wednesday. But so did Seattle. And the Reds had a much shorter trip to Seattle than the Sounders had to endure. The Reds came from down the coast in Los Angeles; the Sounders travelled from Mexico.
With Frings, Winter was somewhat able to mitigate his back line’s troubling lack of mobility. But, if Frings is gone for any period of time, it’s hard to think of a back line in MLS that’s more vulnerable than the Reds — and Winter would need to come up with some sort of new sorcery to make it work.