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Tchani both hero and goat for Toronto FC

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After 12 matches and still no wins against the Columbus Crew, Toronto FC’s rivalry with it Trillium Cup foes is starting to resemble Wile E. Coyote’s rivalry with the Roadrunner. Just when it seems the Reds might have a bit of an edge over the Crew, some unusual circumstance arises to cost TFC a victory.

Case in point, the opening goal in Toronto’s 1-1 draw with Columbus on Saturday. In the 41st minute, TFC midfielder Tony Tchani was the point man off a series of fine passes from Alan Gordon and Julian de Guzman, and Tchani made no mistake, scoring his first goal of the season.

Tchani joyfully leapt into the stands to celebrate putting his team into the lead, but unfortunately, that’s when the other shoe dropped for the Reds. Tchani was booked for excessive celebration, and since it was his second yellow card of the match, Tchani went from hero to ejected within seconds.

“I hope that he learns from this incident in the future and it’s not going to happen [again],” said TFC coach Aron Winter. “It’s stupid in that way because you know you’ve got your first yellow card and you know when you jump from the pitch you’ll get your second yellow. At that moment he was emotional because it was his first goal with TFC and he forgot, but it was not clever.”

Tchani blamed his error on his own over-excitement, but also on the inconsistent rulings applied to goal celebrations. Vancouver’s Eric Hassli was booked for removing his jersey after scoring a goal against New England on April 6, but into-the-stands celebrations tend to be judged differently depending on the official.

“I’ve seen players do it before,” Tchani said. “[Charlie] Davies from D.C. did it, one of my teammates [Alan Gordon] did it a few weeks ago. I was thankful for scoring the first goal for TFC and giving it to the fans.”

The controversial ruling brought a sour ending to what had otherwise been an impressive first half for Toronto. The Reds have notably struggled early in games this season, including allowing two goals in the first 10 minutes last Saturday in a 3-0 loss to D.C. United. This week, however, TFC was clearly the superior club in the early going,

“Aron and Bob [assistant coach Bob de Klerk] emphasized the first 10-15 minutes of matches we started slow. They said going into this match, just concentrate,” said defender Adrian Cann. “Put your mind into it, make sure you’re on the same page and work your ass off. We’ve got to dictate the tempo as opposed to other teams coming in here and doing that to us.”

While Columbus couldn’t muster much on attack, the Reds had a couple of decent opportunities. Jacob Peterson had a scoring chance off a free kick in the second minute, and in the 10th, de Guzman sent a cross in front to a leaping Gordon, but the ball sailed past the striker’s head.

Gordon was making his return to the Starting XI after missing the previous two matches with an adductor injury. Cann was also back for TFC after being forced out of the United game after just 12 minutes with a pectoral contusion. With Nana Attakora injured and Ty Harden serving a one-game suspension, their spots on the back line were taken by Dan Gargan and Dicoy Williams, the latter making his first MLS start.

The continually-shuffling lineup is surely a concern for Winter and his staff, but this combination of Reds did the trick in the first half, with Gordon as the catalyst. The forward made a pass at midfield in the 25th minute and sprung fellow striker Javier Martina on a partial breakaway. With two Crew defenders closing quickly, Martina had enough time to launch a close-range strike that was easily swatted away by Crew goalkeeper Will Hesmer.

One of the match’s key moments unfolded in the 36th minute when a scramble for the ball along the sidelines left TFC defender Danleigh Borman on the ground in front of the Columbus bench after a stray kick to his leg. This incited a mild scuffle between the two teams that saw a few shoves and harsh words exchanged.

In the end, each side received a yellow card — the Crew’s Kevin Burns for the initial tackle and Tchani for interjecting himself afterwards. It was hard to tell what exactly happened with all the bodies crowded around Borman, but Tchani claims his booking was a case of mistaken identity.

“[Burns] hit my teammate hard and I just said ‘take it easy.’ Then a teammate came on the side and pushed me into the guy,” Tchani said. “Then their whole bench stood up and got in my face, and I just said ‘whoa, relax.’ I wasn’t trying to fight that guy or anything….I think the ref thought it was me and he gave me the yellow.”

This card, compounded his later booking, removed Tchani from the pitch and reduced Toronto to just 10 men with over half the match left to play. It was probably just a matter of time before TFC conceded its lead and, sure enough, Emilio Renteria’s header equalized for the Crew in the 49th minute.

Taking a cross from Crew defender Sebastian Miranda, Renteria made a nice re-direction on a header and sent the ball just inside the left post for his first goal of the season.

Columbus continued to get chances, outshooting TFC 9-2 in the second half, but the Reds held firm and kept the game tied.

“Ultimately I’m just content with us coming away with one point, knowing we went down a man quite early,” Cann said. “Had we maintained 11 players on the field I thought we would’ve come up with three points just because we dictated the tempo of the match from the start in the first half.

“[The red card] was unfortunate, but it happens, you know? You have to weather the storm and the guys did well to do that.”

The draw extends TFC’s winless streak to five games, though four of those results have been ties. Perhaps even more frustratingly for Toronto, the club is still winless against Columbus. The Reds are 0-5-7 all-time against the Crew and for the second straight game against the Black & Gold, found themselves giving up a lead under peculiar circumstances.

On Oct. 16 last year, the Reds took a 2-1 lead into stoppage time against Columbus before giving up an equalizer to, of all people, Hesmer, who became just the second ‘keeper in MLS history to score during a game.

Tchani’s ejection wasn’t quite as notable as that, but the fact remains that the Crew always seem to confound the Reds.

“Robert [Crew head coach Robert Warzycha] has them working hard every game. Obviously it’s a pretty different team these days as opposed to in past years, but the fundamentals in terms of work ethic is exactly the same,” said TFC goalkeeper Stefan Frei. “They might be scrappy but they try to get the result no matter how pretty or ugly it’s going to be. Same as today, they somehow found the back of the net and stole a point from BMO Field.”
] The Reds did gain one moral victory, as Tchani’s goal snapped the Crew’s shutout streak at 413 minutes. Also, the club had to be heartened by the late-game spark provided by a couple of their second half substitutions — Richard Eckersley (making his TFC debut after being acquired on loan from Burnley last week) and 19-year-old Joao Plata.

It was Plata who led a three-on-two rush in the 79th minute, just moments after entering the game for captain Maicon Santos. The ball went deep into Crew territory and almost found Eckersley into the box for a clear chance, but the only result was an off-target shot from Plata and went high.

This showing from the bench players is a good sign for a TFC team that will need all hands on deck in the coming weeks. The Columbus game was the first of seven games in 22 days for Toronto. The club plays five league games and a home-and-home tie against FC Edmonton in the opening-round match of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship tournament.

Winter said he removed Gordon at halftime not because Gordon wasn’t fit, but because the coach was looking ahead to keeping Gordon ready for Wednesday’s match in Edmonton. Winter said the busy schedule will be a test for his young team.

“Now we have to be focused about Edmonton because you don’t have a lot of time to think about the past game,” Winter said. “It’s not difficult because the guys know the coming four or five weeks are a very tough period….but it’s all part of it. That’s what the guys have to grow with it, like professionals, and it’s important that when they’re not here, they’re taking rest, eating well and recovering very well.”

Toronto has won the last two Canadian Championships, but this is the first time that FC Edmonton has competed in the tournament. The NASL side is 2-1 thus far in its schedule and will have a full week of rest before hosting the Reds on Wednesday night at Commonwealth Stadium. The return fixture at BMO Field is on May 4th.

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