Home MLS Toronto FC Henry’s late goal officially eliminates TFC from playoff picture

Henry’s late goal officially eliminates TFC from playoff picture

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In a season where Toronto FC has frittered away over a dozen points due to late-game breakdowns and failures to defend setpieces, it’s perhaps fitting that both demons combined at once in the game that officially eliminated the Reds from the postseason hunt.  Thierry Henry’s 88th-minute equalizer off of a corner kick left TFC with just one point in a 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls on Saturday at BMO Field.

After Danny Koevermans scored to put Toronto ahead in the 50th minute, New York began to press and kept the Reds under pressure for most of the second half.  TFC held steady against the numerous stars in New York’s lineup, but finally succumbed to the Red Bulls’ biggest name.  Henry found some space on the left side and when the ball bounced his way following the corner, the former France and Arsenal superstar easily deposited the kick into the net.

Late allowance aside, the result was in many ways a positive for a Toronto side that had been outscored 15-1 in its last four matches (all losses) against New York.  The most recent of those losses was a 5-0 rout in the reverse fixture on July 6, but that defeat took place before the additions of Koevermans, Torsten Frings and several other new players to the Reds’ roster.

With the new nucleus in place, TFC is 3-2-4 in its last nine league games and on Saturday was up to the task of facing such stars as Henry, Rafa Marquez and Luke Rodgers.

“We respect what all those players can do but we don’t go into a game thinking about them.  We go into every game thinking about what we can do,” said Toronto defender Ty Harden.  “We want to control possession and I think we did that for the most part tonight.  That’s when we were very successful, when we were playing our game and not worrying about them.  Once we started to drop off and let them play a little bit that’s when we got hurt.”

The draw was a fair result for a game that saw each team manage 12 shots (New York had a 6-4 edge in shots on goal) and produced multiple good scoring chances.  TFC generated a bit more on attack in the first half, with Koevermans, Eric Avila, Peri Marosevic all missing wide on three particularly close opportunities.  The Reds looked sharp despite playing into a strong southbound wind in the first half that made a 10-degree night at BMO Field feel even colder.

It was Koevermans who broke through in the 50th minute with his seventh goal in nine MLS games.  Ryan Johnson took the ball downfield along with Koevermans and four New York defenders, and Johnson made a nice move to pass it to the Dutchman on the left side.  Replays showed that Koevermans may have been offside by a foot or two which may explain by the defenders hesitated just long enough for Koevermans to put the ball just inside the right post for the score.

With the lead, however, the Reds began to play back, and this defensive posture only increased throughout the half as all three strikers were substituted out of the game.  Koevermans went off in apparent pain after being kicked in the knee in 71st minute, but TFC coach Aron Winter indicated that the injury was fairly minor.

The Toronto back line had a solid game despite the absence of fullback Richard Eckersley, out with an injured hamstring.  While the Red Bulls were attacking, the defenders and Frings (again being utilized as a sweeper) held steady.  Harden had a very effective game, particularly in the 52nd minute when he slid to break up a cross to Dane Richards in front of the net.

Andy Iro, Harden’s fellow centre back, made a nice play of his own on New York’s best scoring chance to that point in the game.  In the 66th minute, Henry sent a through ball in to Rodgers.  Iro was almost beaten but stayed on his man and provided just enough of a presence for Rodgers to rush his shot, punting one high over the crossbar.

“In the second half the pressure was coming. You could feel it,” said midfielder Eric Avila.  “Also, if you give time to a great player like Henry, you know he can punish us.  It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t get three points but it was a tie with a really good team and I think we should be happy with the way we played.”

Given how well the Reds played, it made it all the more frustrating to Winter that the club once again fell short of victory.

“Up until five minutes before the end of the game I think that they played very well,” Winter said.  “We did not give much away but at the end, we were winning 1-0, again, before the game ends, again with a corner, a set piece [that] we are not sharp enough. It’s a pity because we deserved more.

“It doesn’t matter who is playing, it matters the mistakes you’re making at that moment.  We played well but…in the end of the game you have to be sharp and take care that you have the three points.”

Toronto FC faced the longest of odds to make the postseason, given that it had to win all three of its remaining games (and by large margins, so as to reduce its -23 goal differential) and then rely on collapses from several other teams ahead of it.  Still, today’s result just finalizes the fact that TFC has yet to reach the MLS playoffs after five years in existence.

TFC can take solace in the fact it dealt a blow to its Eastern Conference rivals, as the Red Bulls entered the day’s action hanging on to the 10th and final playoff spot in the playoff bracket.

The Reds have two league games remaining but those pale in importance to TFC’s final CONCACAF Champions League date on Oct. 18.  Should Toronto win its road match with FC Dallas, TFC will advance to the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time, becoming just the second Canadian club (after the 2008-09 Montreal Impact) to get that deep into the CCL tournament.

With an eye already ahead to that important match, Winter kept Julian de Guzman on the bench against New York.  Winter said he wanted to rest de Guzman since the midfielder will likely play 180 minutes for Canada in World Cup qualifiers against Saint Lucia and Puerto Rico on Oct. 7 and 11, respectively.  Terry Dunfield and Ashtone Morgan, both also capped for Canada’s upcoming games, did start for Toronto and each played the full 90 minutes.

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