Home MLS Toronto FC TFC’s draw with New England a microcosm of an inconsistent season

TFC’s draw with New England a microcosm of an inconsistent season

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Toronto FC’s last game of the 2011 season could’ve almost served as a microcosm of the club’s entire year.  Some defensive breakdowns that led to opposing goals, Danny Koevermans bailing the Reds out and, in the end, a 2-2 draw with the New England Revolution that left the BMO Field fans satisfied, if not overjoyed, with how their club performed.

“As long as we didn’t lose the last game, you know?  You don’t want to leave disappointed,” said goalkeeper Milos Kocic.  “I’m hoping that it’s gonna stay in this season — the bad results, the bad set pieces that we conceded all the goals on, and we head into next season … keeping our composure.”

TFC’s season finale was essentially an anticlimax after the team’s stunning 3-0 win over FC Dallas last Tuesday that sent the Reds to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.  Toronto and New England were both well out of the playoff race, so Saturday’s match was purely about pride for both clubs and, for certain individual players, a last chance to save their jobs for 2012.

To that end, TFC’s back line may be updating their resumes.  In the 40th minute, with Toronto up 1-0, a Revolution corner kick was headed into the net by N.E. midfielder Monsef Zerka.  It was yet another case of an opponent scoring after being left unmarked by the Reds on a se tpiece.

Then, in the 46th minute, New England took the lead after a poor clearance in TFC’s end of the field.  A turnover led to Benny Feilhaber crossing to striker Milton Caraglio on the left side, who slid and knocked the ball home for the go-ahead goal.

Reds head coach Aron Winter decried the many “unnecessary” goals his team allowed this season, and while Winter declined to mention specific positions he wished to upgrade, the coach left the impression that the necessary changes were obvious.  TFC will need a healthy Adrian Cann and at least one other top-quality centre back next season in order to plug these consistent defensive leaks.

Both the Reds and the Revolution began to open up their attack in the second half, as both teams could afford to go all-out with no games left until 2012.  Toronto pressed and got the better of the attack, but their chances of equalizing were dimmed when striker Joao Plata suffered a leg injury in the 74th minute and had to be substituted out for Gianluca Zavarise.  Plata, the 19-year-old Ecuadorean who has been such a spark for TFC this year, received a standing ovation from the 21,600 in attendance at BMO Field as he left the pitch.

Though Plata was gone, Koevermans remained, and the forward once again came through for TFC.  In the 83rd minute, Eric Avila sent a cross from the left in front of the net that bounced off Torsten Frings and found Koevermans on the right side, who knocked the ball through to tie the game at two goals apiece.

Koevermans already had an assist in the game (finding fellow Dutchman Nick Soolsma with a cross in the 20th minute for the opening goal) and this last goal gave Koevermans eight goals in 10 league games with TFC, and 10 goals in 15 matches overall as a Red.

This scoring outburst is even more impressive when you consider that Koevermans has been battling fitness issues since coming to MLS and, by his own admission, was a bit unprepared for what to expect playing in North America.

“I didn’t expect that much [in MLS] but everybody is such an athlete.  Everybody is so quick, everybody is so strong and this league has a good level,” Koevermans said.  “People in Europe thinks this is some sort of a Mickey Mouse league and it’s so not true.  There are good, quality players in this league and you can’t underestimate the quality of the players here.

“I’m glad to be here.  I enjoyed my first three months, I’ve been to some nice cities and nice stadiums and I find the support in every stadium we’re in…. but it was fantastic the first few months.  Let’s hope next year when the season is for eight months that we’re going to make it.”

The Reds finished the season with a 6-13-15 record and 33 points, good for 16th overall in the league table ahead of just Vancouver and New England.  Most of that mediocrity can be attributed to a brutal first four months, but once Koevermans, Frings, Avila and several others were added to the roster during the transfer window, TFC was a different team.  Toronto posted a 6-4-9 record in their last 19 games in all competitions with the highlight, of course, being the berth in the CCL quarterfinals in March.

While Toronto FC will miss the playoffs for the fifth time in its five seasons of existence, the international success and the Reds’ recent form made Winter positive about his club after his first year as head coach.

“From the moment I came here, I always said the most important thing was to rebuild the team,” Winter said.  “When you’re rebuilding you have targets to compete in all those different leagues — the Nutrilite [Canadian Championship], the CONCACAF if you should be qualified and in the MLS you want to play well and one of the targets in the league was to get to the playoffs.  We won the Nutrilite Cup, we qualified for the first time in the CONCACAF [quarterfinals] and in the league the last three months we have improved a lot….I think the season was not so bad.”

Winter also addressed his letter to the fans, via a full-page ad in Saturday’s Toronto Star, thanking the long-suffering TFC supporters for sticking with the club through another season with no playoffs.

“This season, with all the problems that have happened in the past, they were always believing in my soccer vision and always behind us in the beginning when the results were not there,” Winter said.  “I’m so happy that they’re supported us always because they were tremendous and we appreciate it very much.”

While the team’s first postseason trip is still far from a foregone conclusion, Reds fans can take solace in the fact that the TFC that took the field for the last three months was certainly the strongest version of the club to ever don the jersey.  Toronto is still looking for games in November, but the city will enjoy an extra game in March when either Monterrey, Santos Laguna or the L.A. Galaxy come to town for the first leg of the CCL quarterfinal.

“At least we saved the season at the end, right?” Kocic said.  “We saved it with the Dallas game and I’m ready to come back fit and to ready to fight for the Champions League in the beginning and then continue into the regular season.”

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