Home MLS Toronto FC TFC gets a draw in the Houston heat; when it gets hot, the games get oh so slow

TFC gets a draw in the Houston heat; when it gets hot, the games get oh so slow

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Last week, Toronto FC got its first road win of the season. On Saturday, TFC earned a draw in Houston.

And TFC supporters should actually be more appreciative of the single point in Houston than the three earned at the home of the league’s worst team, D.C. United. It’s not just that the Dynamo has been to the last two MLS Cups, and get beaten at home about as often as, well, TFC wins on the road. It’s the heat.

Beating Houston in normal soccer weather would be difficult enough. But when its 30-31 C at kickoff, with humidity hovering around 80 per cent, the Dynamo’s home-field advantage is exaggerated. Sure, it gets that warm in Toronto in the summer, but BBVA Compass Stadium has a very special way of holding in the heat at field level. If the weatherman says its 30 C at kickoff, it’s likely a few degrees warmer on the grass. I don’t have scientific proof of this; I just take it from the testimonials I’ve heard from national-team and MLS players and coaches who have been there.

So, the 0-0 draw — as unexciting as it was for long stretches — was something that TFC coach Ryan Nelsen can take pride in.

In fact, TFC had the best chance to win it late. In the final 15 minutes, a period where the Reds have already given up nine goals this season, the Reds actually could have stolen the game.

Danny Koevermans, just in off the subs bench, won the first header off a long ball played deep into the Houston half. He left the ball for Jeremy Brockie, who’s skidding shot forced Dynamo keeper Tally Hall into an excellent diving stop. The rebound came right to Koevermans at the right post. But Hall popped up and got square to Koevermans — an outstanding show of reflexes — so he could stop the second attempt.

Houston had 68 per cent of the ball, which speaks to how deep Toronto FC defended, and how compact the midfielders remained to the back four. And, on the road in those kind of hostile conditions, it’s really tough to imagine Nelsen being able to cobble together any other kind of strategy that would have allowed his team to have any gas at all late in the second half.

Still, as tight as TFC played, Houston can lament one fantastic chance missed. In the 25th minute, a wide-open Will Bruin headed a ball high of goal from only a couple of feet away, wasting an inch-perfect cross from Corey Ashe.

But, on the whole, this was not a game that anyone will review for entertainment purposes. In the NASL, FC Edmonton played in punishing heat in San Antonio, and that game also wasn’t played at what you’d call a scintillating pace.

And, let’s face it, the excitement of the World Cup games comes from the sense of occasion and the tension. But, in terms of quality of football, the World Cup can’t hold a candle to the Champions League or many major professional competitions. Most World Cups happen in the dead of the host country’s summer, and the games are slower than you’d find in the qualifying stages.

NASL is right to take July off; soccer is not meant to be a summer sport. But NASL has less than half the teams of MLS at this moment. It can afford that kind of hole in the schedule.

MLS, with soon-to-be 20 teams, needs to play throughout the year. One thing I’l never do is be foolish enough to suggest we go to an international (read: European) calendar. You can’t play soccer in the winter in many MLS cities, from Chicago to Columbus to Montreal to Salt Lake City and Denver. But, at the same time, it is worth reminding that soccer is NOT a summer game. Necessity forces North Americans to play the game in the summer. It is a game designed for a crisp autumn day.

The question is, as June, July and August creep in — the months when your fan base decreases, as they go away on vacation, spend weekends away from the cities, have weddings to go to, when the kids are out of school — should the league not plan better for the heat?

Name the last time you saw a thrilling game played in temperatures in excess of 30 C.

You can’t tell soccer fans that watching games in Houston in the summer is a good advertisement for soccer. You can’t show a game like that off and then tell people you want your league to be recognized as one of the best in the world.

As MLS wants to move forward, it has to adjust its schedule to allow for more exciting games. Colorado and Chicago shouldn’t be playing at home in March. Houston and Dallas should have home games limited in the dead of the summer. But, this year, we saw attendances in March hammered by cold-weather games that made you really question the schedule-maker. Houston and Dallas should be playing a lot of home games in the spring and fall; the northern non-dome teams should be playing the bulk of their home games in the summer.

With so many soccer-specific stadiums in the league, it’s not like MLS teams have to fight for dates or be worked in around a bunch of other pro teams.

Yes, it’s a fair argument that teams like Houston and Dallas and (possibly a Florida team if that ever comes to pass) deserve a home-field advantage. After all, Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids have altitude working in their favour, why can’t the Texas teams have the heat?

The problem is that heat doesn’t so much work as a home advantage as it does to make the game unwatchable. Visiting teams will do as TFC did Saturday, be happy to soak up pressure and escape with a point. And that does nothing but fuel all the haters who make fun of the 0-0 games.

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