Home MLS Toronto FC Close scoreline, wretched performance: Hope rapidly disappearing from TFC season

Close scoreline, wretched performance: Hope rapidly disappearing from TFC season

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The good news: Toronto FC got an early goal from Justin Braun, to take an early lead on the road Wednesday against the San Jose Earthquakes.

The bad news: It would end up being the Reds’ only shot on goal. After Braun’s 15th minute marker, all San Jose keeper Jon Busch had to do was make some odd goal kicks and make a few catches. It wasn’t until the 89th minute — after the Quakes had turned things around and taken a 2-1 lead — that Busch was even slightly troubled, force to outleap TFC’s Darel Russell and Robert Earnshaw for a loose ball in the box.

The 2-1 scoreline would hold, and TFC’s hopeful glimmers from the start of the season have given way to the reality that, more and more, this feels like a Mo Johnston team. What is TFC? Players from the lower English divisions and an Argentine that we don’t know a lot about, but there’s high hopes he can do something. (We’ve seen that script before.) Maybe it’ll work out OK, but it’s beginning to feel like this team might be two calls away from brining Andy Welsh and Collin Samuel back into the fold.

Sure, we can fret about how TFC gave up yet another late winner — this time off a corner in the 81st minute. An unmarked Chris Wondolowski, he of MLS record-setting goal-scorer fame, nodded the ball in after an unmarked Walter Martinez flicked on a corner from Marvin Chavez.But the late goal doesn’t tell the story of the game. The team will surely be under pressure late when it’s absolutely dominated in the middle of the park for 90 minutes and resolutely plays two strikers — Braun and Earnshaw — in such isolated positions that it’s impossible to stop San Jose’s wonderful midfield pair of Martinez and Sam Cronin from dominating the game.

Yes, the winning goal from Wondolowski had an air of inevitability to it. San Jose has made a habit out of scoring goals in the last 10 minutes of game. And TFC gives up late winner after late winner.

But, truthfully, the only surprise was that it was left that late, considering the way the Earthquakes were dominating the game. The Quakes came at the Reds in waves. The Reds backline were at panic stations and then gave the ball right back to San Jose time and time again.

It was Designated Player Matias Laba’s second game into his new role as TFC’s holding midfielder. But when it felt like Martinez and Cronin were barging through the middle of the park with little or no interruption to their flow of play, Laba clearly had a problem. He wasn’t disrupting the opponents. It’s early, he’s acclimating, but if Laba has more efforts like this, it won’t be long till TFC fans give him a rougher time than Julian de Guzman had to endure.

And Doneil Henry, the young central defender who made last-ditch tackle after last-ditch tackle, looked good for the cameras. But, in fact, the reason he was always a focus of attention was because he had to make those last-ditch tackles to make up for some serious positional problems. He was caught allowing Earthquakes to get ball side, goal side of him far too often, and his regular panicked clearances paved the way for San Jose scoring chances.

Fans of the stereotypical Canadian hard working player will point to the fact that Henry challenged for ball after ball despite being involved in a clash early in the game that forced him to go to the sideline for repairs. But, fans of the calm centre back that allows the game to come to him will point out how panicked the pairing of Darren O’Dea and Henry were all night, allowing too much, too deep — and often leaving gaps between themselves.

When San Jose and the Reds play each other, there’s often a high-school reunion feel to the game. Over the past two seasons, the two teams have become preferred MLS trading partners. The Quakes started three former Reds; Canadian centre back Nana Attakora, fullback Dan Gargan and midfielder Cronin.

Attakora and his former teammate, Henry, both needed bandages after a clash of heads in the TFC penalty area off an Earthquakes corner early in the game.

With the head bandage, it was easy to spot Henry in the 15th minute, getting forward into the box to flick on a long free kick from Darren O’Dea into the path of Braun, who nudged the ball into the back of the goal.

Right before Braun opened the scoring, TFC keeper Joe Bendik was called on to make a leaping save off a long looping header from Wondolowski, who scored 27 times last season.

Earthquake Chavez fizzed a shot from outside the box just wide, and it came only a couple of minutes after the Braun goal.

But TFC didn’t hold the lead for long. And it was defender Logan Emory, who whiffed on a clearance late in the game that gave the Rapids a 1-0 over the Reds on Saturday, in a another tough spot. Three minutes after the restart, Wondolowski made a deft little chip pass in the TFC penalty area, between Emory and Henry. The ball went for Adam Jahn, who made a clever shoulder shift and dummy — and Emory bit on the fake. Emory peeled away from the ball, anticipating a move by Jahn. Instead, Jahn found himself alone in front of goal and had an easy time converting the equalizer.

Wondolowski could have given San Jose the lead in the 75th, but his attempt went just wide after he received a panicked Henry clearance attempt. Wondolowski turned and shot, and the effort went just wide.

San Jose had the possession advantage by a 60-40 margin. The Reds got one shot on goal. Looking at those numbers, only losing by a 2-1 margin was pretty good.

It’s only early May, and TFC is already 13 points out of first place in the Eastern Conference. The Reds are out of the last playoff spot by five points, but the teams they are chasing have games in hand.

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One Comment

  1. footy

    May 9, 2013 at 11:23 am

    Good piece Steven. The problem with focussing so much on defense is that you are walking backwards all the time. Every clearance from the back come right back. You need guys upfront who can hold the ball so the rest can come forward, but you also need soccerplayers in middle of the park and the back that can keep the ball in posession so the forwards have time to make runs.

    There’s so little soccer in this TFC team, only guys like Silva and Osorio got the skills to play soccer, and usually only one of them plays. Upfront Earnshaw is a real poacher, but not some-one who makes the rest of the team function better. Braun is tall and works hard, but he has so little ballcontrol it’s almost shocking.

    I think things will improve if the Koef get’s back, and maybe Laba will get better (and show that he can also play forward), but the season is looking bleaker and bleaker with every game.

    Reply

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