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TFC listless for 60 minutes in loss to the Crew

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With Toronto FC languishing in last place in the MLS table, and in a different time zone than the teams battling for the Eastern Conference playoff spots, the rest of the 2012 regular season has to be treated as an extended 2013 preseason.

In fact, the 2013 preseason — outside of the CONCACAF Champions League matches — probably began around the time that former coach Aron Winter left the organization.

Players have to play for jobs next year — if not for TFC, for some other club. They need to have some decent footage to use on their video-resume rolls.

But, for 60 minutes of Wednesday’s 2-1 loss in Columbus, TFC looked like a team that was going through the motions, even though coach Paul Mariner handed keeper Freddy Hall his MLS debut and centre back Dicoy Williams his first MLS start of the season.

Starting little-used players, with this Columbus date being the first game of three in a week, was the right call. And, with only the third of the three matches — the Aug. 28 CCL date with Santos Laguna — really mattering, Mariner was right to give these players some game action.

But, under five minutes into the match — right after he nervously bobbled his first save on a long-distance shot — Hall was picking the ball out of the back of his net. But the goal wasn’t his fault.

First off, right back Richard Eckersley was caught too far up the field as the Crew came forward down his wing. Designated Player Federico Higuain got to the ball behind Eckersley, and then waited for help down the middle. Eckersley had time to reset but, curiously, chose not to challenged Higuain. The defender laid off, gave Higuain way too much space, and TFC was punished when the ball was squared to Eddie Gaven at the top of the box, and his shot deflected off a TFC defender and went into the corner of the goal.

Instead of rising up off the deck, TFC spent the first half in passive mode, holding the ball for some decent spells in the middle of the park, but offering nothing going forward. There was no push back.

And the second half began the same way the first half ended. TFC sat back, and Columbus came forward. A Higuain shot rattled off the post before, finally, in the 58th minute, the Argentine got his deserved goal from a cool finish in the box.

But it needs to be pointed out that Columbus was able to make four passes inside the box, including a cross from one side of the box to the other, before Higuain finished the attack. TFC was caught ball watching, as at no time should any team have that easy a time making that many consistent touches in the opposition penalty area.

Finally, after Quincy Amarikwa, another young turk who deserves a look now that TFC is essentially in a preseason for next season, was brought into the game, TFC finally came to life. Luis Silva, running alongside Amarikwa, was sent in alone on goal thanks to a wonderful through ball from Eric Hassli.

And, with the score 2-1, TFC roared forward. And, with Higuain subbed out of the game, Columbus lost its forward thrust. The Crew bunkered down and held on. Silva had a close-range header saved by keeper Andy Gruenebaum, and Ashtone Morgan’s, slowed by a deflection off a defender, was gathered by the Crew keeper.

TFC was knocking, but gave itself so little time to react after passively allowing Columbus to dictate the match for 60 minutes. And, 30-minute efforts aren’t good enough.

Even for a preseason match.


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