Home MLS Toronto FC TFC’s improved performance earns the team a draw and a moral victory

TFC’s improved performance earns the team a draw and a moral victory

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Not that it would’ve taken much for Toronto FC to top its rock-bottom performance last Wednesday against Chivas USA, but the Reds showed some pride in rebounding from that poor outing to outplay the New York Red Bulls for large stretches of their 0-0 draw on Saturday at BMO Field.

“It was very important for us to come back like that,” midfielder Jeremy Hall said. “It was a game we should’ve gotten three points out of….We’re at home in front of our fans and we wanted a good showing.”

A win wouldn’t have been out of the question for TFC given that they caught the Red Bulls on an off-day. New York fielded the same Starting XI that routed the Impact by a 4-0 score last Saturday but the Red Bulls weren’t nearly as dangerous this time around, collecting just two shots in the entire second half and looking like they were content to take their point and get out of Toronto.

TFC, meanwhile, managed eight shots in the second half and controlled the majority of play, though they again lacked the finishing touch to find the back of the net. The Reds have now played 336 minutes without a goal, stretching back to Darren O’Dea’s 24th-minute strike against Montreal on July 3.

“I would be really concerned if we weren’t in the positions to score goals, but we were,” said TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen. “We got in good positions. It was just that final ball and that final little bit of quality that is needed when you’re a bit more fresh. It’s always a concern when you’re not scoring but I can’t fault the two guys cause they worked so hard and they tried and they got in positions.”

Probably the best actual chance came from, of all people, Richard Eckersley when the right back made a strong run down his side of the field in the 74th minute. Eckersley launched a rising shot that caught NYRB goalkeeper Luis Robles off-guard, though Robles was still able to deflect the chance over the bar and clear of danger.

It was a vastly improved game for the TFC midfield, with Matias Laba and Jonathan Osorio both looking good against tough competition. A 53rd-minute turnover in New York’s end led to Laba evading three opponents to try and find room, though his eventual pass to Osorio quickly saw the Canadian swallowed up by Red Bull defenders.

While Hall and company couldn’t quite mange to link up with the strikers, they at least kept the ball away from New York’s many goal threats. Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry combined for four shots, only one of which was on goal — Henry had a decent shot in the fourth minute that was saved by Joe Bendik.

“The most important thing was keeping our shape,” Hall said. “We talked about stepping to the ball because [Dax] McCarty connects up well with those guys. If Thierry or Tim aren’t getting the ball…it makes our job easier.”

Hall was one of three changes Nelsen made to TFC’s Starting XI in the wake of the Chivas disaster. Hall replaced Darel Russell in the midfield, Doneil Henry came in for Gale Agbossoumonde on the back line and Justin Braun filled in at striker for Robert Earnshaw, who is nursing a hamstring injury.

Nelsen made just one substitution during the game (Reggie Lambe for Braun in the 88th minute) due to the lack of fit bench depth available. The coach said his charges were feeling the effects of road games at Kansas City and Chivas within the last seven days.

“I think a bit of fatigue and being so tired prevented them from having that extra step and that extra yard to create the necessary space to finish them off. We got into really good positions and if we had been a little more fresh we might have been all right,” Nelsen said.

As always, the Reds believed they caught a bad break from the officiating when Jeremy Brockie was seemingly clipped inside the Red Bulls box in the 22nd minute. Replays were inconclusive (it seemed as if Brockie may have just tripped) but both Brockie and Nelsen felt it was a “stone-cold penalty.”

“The explanation I got was that Jeremy Brockie reached his foot back so he could get tripped over. Jeremy Brockie is an intelligent man, but I don’t think he has eyes in the back of his head,” Nelsen said. “If he did that on purpose, I would be amazed. I’d rather they would just say that they made a mistake than come up with an excuse like that.”

In a vacuum, a tie against the Eastern Conference’s second-place team is a good result for last-place TFC but single points are of little use to the Reds in what already looks like a lost season. While TFC did record a home victory playing at Rogers Centre on March 9, it has now been over a year since the Reds last won at their “fortress” of BMO Field. The Reds’ last regular-season win at BMO came on July 18, 2012.

While Nelsen’s claim that his side is “just a few little parts away” from better home results can be met with skepticism, the coach could at least be satisfied by Saturday’s clean sheet and moral victory.

“Obviously I’m very proud of the guys,” Nelsen said. “They had a couple of awkward games and difficult results out west and then had to fly a long distance and then play a team like New York….All the odds were against them.”

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