Home MLS Toronto FC Shorthanded TFC and Galaxy squads struggle to score

Shorthanded TFC and Galaxy squads struggle to score

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In a 0-0 draw with few scoring chances for either side, just about the only flash at BMO Field on Wednesday night was provided by the extra photographers on hand to catch an action shot of David Beckham. Toronto FC and the Los Angeles Galaxy each had a few attacking bursts throughout the game, but overall, both sides were lacking on offence — perhaps not surprising, given some of the personnel missing from each team’s starting XI.

“We missed some guys who we thought were going to be playing today, so we had to make some changes,” said TFC goalkeeper Stefan Frei. “A point is better than nothing and we got the shutout again, which is good.”

Alan Gordon and Maicon Santos were both last-minute omissions from Toronto’s lineup. Gordon was held out of training on Tuesday due to some wear-and-tear suffered in San Jose last weekend, and wasn’t judged to be quite fit enough to play against the Galaxy. Santos, meanwhile, is suffering from the flu, so TFC head coach Aron Winter decided to keep his captain on the sidelines.

“At the last minute we had to change players in the roster, so that’s why the [draw] result is good,” Winter said, though he noted that he obviously doesn’t like being short on key players.

“We have got enough [offensive depth] but I don’t want to change a lot,” Winter said. “I want to change only when I’m not satisfied about certain players not doing well in certain positions. Otherwise I’ll always play as much as possible with the same team.”

The lineup shift looked like it cost the Reds early on, as Toronto’s attack was virtually non-existent over the first 25 minutes of the game. The back line looked equally shaky, allowing a Juan Pablo Angel scoring chance in the very first minute that required a point-blank save from Frei.

The Galaxy nearly struck again in the 13th minute, thanks to a familiar face to Toronto fans. L.A. midfielder Mike Magee took the ball away from Alen Stevanovic with a hard tackle that most of BMO Field thought was a foul. No call came, however, and Magee fed the ball up to former Red Chad Barrett, whose shot bounced off the crossbar and stayed out.

Barrett was in the lineup in place of L.A. star striker Landon Donovan, who missed his second straight match with a knee injury. It was Barrett’s first game back at BMO Field since being dealt by the Reds to the Galaxy in January. Barrett was often a target of Toronto fans and media for his lack of finish on scoring chances, so it was perhaps fitting that he had both the near-miss off the crossbar and also another close call later in the game.

“When I hit it, it felt pretty good,” Barrett said about his initial chance. “As soon as it passed Stefan, I thought it was going to go in, but if it hits the bar another half-inch, it drops down and goes in. The one I really want back is the one off my right [foot] that I passed up on. That’s never going to happen again. If I ever get that chance again, it’s going in the back of the net.

“It was fun playing in front of those fans again. They’re great fans, making tons of noise and making it hard on me.”

Ty Harden broke through with Toronto’s first shot of the game in the 26th minute, and for the remainder of the half, TFC suddenly looked like a different club. The Reds controlled play with sharp passing and ball movement, though this improved form didn’t result in any strong scoring chances.

Whereas the Reds have often suffered late-game breakdowns in recent years, it seems as if the pattern for the 2011 squad is to get off to a slow start in the opening minutes. TFC faced early deficits against Vancouver (a 4-2 loss) and Chivas USA (a 1-1 draw) and were it not for the crossbar, could easily have been trailing L.A. early in this game.

“I wish there was something we could put our finger on that causes this,” said Harden. “I don’t know. It’s one of those things we’ve got to figure out because that’s several games now in a row we’ve started poorly.”

Neither team did much of anything for the first 15 minutes of the second half, as the second frame was dominated by chippy play. Five bookings were handed out in the half, including two to Galaxy midfielder Juninho, casting him from the match during stoppage time and giving TFC about 30 seconds with an extra man.

Julian de Guzman made his first start of the season and lasted 65 minutes before being substituted off for Mikael Yourasskowsky. De Guzman has played the latter 45 minutes in each of TFC’s previous two games as he recovers from offseason knee surgery, and Winter said the starting assignment was the latest step in bringing de Guzman back to full fitness.

“The last two games I let [de Guzman] come into the second half, and in each game he should play more,” Winter said. “Today I started him, and after an hour I took him off because he was tired, first of all, and second, I didn’t want to take a risk, thinking about the game for Saturday.”

Perhaps the closest chance of the half came from the man who was the center of attention for most fans. On a 70th-minute free kick, Beckham nearly delivered some of his signature setpiece magic, lining a 25-yard kick off the right post.

“When you have that many chances sometimes you need a bit of luck on your side and we didn’t have it,” Beckham said. “We hit the post, hit the crossbar, had the majority of the play and majority of the chances. Obviously it’s disappointing, we want to win these games.”

Due to injuries and international absences with both AC Milan and England’s national team, Wednesday’s match was the first time Beckham had actually played a league game at BMO Field in his four years with the Galaxy. (Beckham did play in Toronto in the 2008 MLS All-Star Game). The Chicago fans, however, won’t get the chance to see Beckham on what might be his MLS victory lap. Beckham was booked for a reckless tackle in the first half, and since that was Beckham’s fifth yellow card of the season, he’ll be suspended for L.A.’s match against the Fire on Sunday.

The Reds had one last solid chance of their own in the latter minutes, when a Danleigh Borman free kick found the head of Joao Plata, a substitute for striker Javier Martina. Plata had a good chance at his first MLS goal but Galaxy ‘keeper Donovan Ricketts was in position for the save.

Toronto is now unbeaten (1-0-3) in its last four games, though with two of those draws coming at home, the Reds are hardly taking advantage of their early home dates. They will get another chance on Saturday, when the club welcomes D.C. United to BMO Field.

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