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Toronto FC escapes with win in CCL comedy of errors

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Julian de Guzman: Scored a goal, conceded a penalty

It was a fantastic road win for Toronto FC, but a sorry day for anyone trying to convince a skeptical soccer fan that the CONCACAF Champions League is worthy of their attention.

In a nearly empty stadium in Panama, TFC and Tauro FC put on what was a 90-minute comedy of errors. Toronto FC got a 2-1 victory, but the real stunner was that this game didn’t end with a much higher scoreline.

You can go on about poor CONCACAF officiating, that Tauro is still in its preseason, that TFC is fatigued after a win on Saturday and another league game to come on Sunday. But the fact is that, after watching that game, the happiest people have to be FC Dallas and Pumas UNAM supporters. Because, unless the form of either Tauro or TFC improves, there’s no way you can feel good about their chances of escaping Group C.

TFC took advantage of some terrible errors by the home team at both ends of the pitch. Tauro’s backline was leaky, its goalkeeper not up to snuff. And, on the offensive side, Tauro spurned every one of the many chances it had, save a second-half penalty from its captain, Luis Moreno.

Toronto FC got an early lead after Tauro defender Reinel Herrera inexplicably decided to let a long ball played into the area bounce in front of him; the bounce absolutely ate him up, and his attempt to play it only served to set up TFC forward Ryan Johnson, who blew by and then slotted the ball home.

And, four minutes later, TFC had a 2-0 lead as what was a speculative long range shot by Julian de Guzman went right through goalkeeper Auriel Gallardo. The Tauro netminder struggled all night long to catch balls. He waved at a goal-bound ball and missed in the second half, only to be saved by a ticky-tack infraction called against the Reds.

But, as good as it was for TFC to have two first-half goals, there is no way that keeper Milos Kocic — who also struggled to catch the ball in the first half and spilled several crosses into the danger area — deserved to have a clean sheet at half time.

Surely, Toronto FC fans will howl about the Cuban match official — and some of the bizarre calls/non calls that went Tauro’s way in the second half. But he was also very charitable to TFC. Fullback Andy Iro would have had no complaints about seeing red when, after he had just received a yellow for a late lunging tackle, did it again. Instead, he got a talking-to, and was subbed off by TFC coach Aron Winter before the referee got another chance to send him off.

Iro was being regularly beaten by Tauro’s forwards, while Richard Eckersley endured a nightmare night at left back, regularly caught out of position and responding poorly to crosses in the area. Eckersley was also lucky not to be sent off; after taking his first yellow, he got two second-half lectures for bad, late fouls — but no second yellow.

Eckersley got caught on a cross that allowed Tauro Marcos Sanchez the chance to cut the deficit before halftime. But, with the whole net to shoot at, Sanchez blasted right into Kocic’s chest rather than simply trying to place the ball in either wide-open corner.

Eckersley later got caught by giving striker Diego Canali far too much space. Canali was able to get by the English defender and lofted the ball over Kocic; but Eckersley dashed back and headed the ball off the line — a heroic recovery to make up for some poor decision-making just seconds earlier.

The Keystone Kops shenanigans didn’t stop in the second half. Joao Plata had a chance to give TFC a 3-0 lead after he was sent in alone. But, with the ball on his left foot, he stumbled and allowed a defender to get back and tackle him without getting a shot off.

But as bad as Plata’s miss was, Tauro’s were worse. Juan Perrerra missed an open header from six feet out. There were shots put just wide of goal. Chances from inside the box that were blasted over. Misses came from such close range, that it should have been easier to score than go wide with the shots.

TFC assistant coach Bob De Klerk was sent off for protesting after de Guzman brought down Carlos Rodriguez in the box, giving Tauro a penalty that Moreno calmly converted after about a two-minute delay for De Klerk to leave the field.

Tauro kept up the pressure in the final 15, and the referee put his whistle in his pocket as if he was in the overtime of a Stanley Cup game. Kocic was knocked down by a Tauro player just a couple of feet from his goal line, no call.

Tauro got one last chance; a glancing header from Temistocles Perez went inches wide of the post deep into extra time.

But, it was a sloppy night that will make you believe Tauro’s biggest challenge will be to get a solitary point in this competition — and that TFC needs to improve dramatically if it is to get anything out of its next group-stage game, against FC Dallas.

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