On Saturday night Toronto FC got their MLS campaign underway on the road in Seattle. For the Reds the game was a chance to try and carry over their great form from the Champions League win over the LA Galaxy into the new campaign. In the end, the main story of the game might just be Torsten Frings being forced out of the game early in the first half with what appeared to be an injury to his leg or knee.
The German found himself back in that familiar sweeper role against the Seattle Sounders which was what led to him getting hurt. He was working as the last man and was forced to track back into the box and make a potential goal saving tackle. The problem was that when he was at full stretch to clear the ball he brought the attacker down on himself. The extent of the injury was unclear but the German was only able to limp off the field and call for a sub. Any potential absence for Frings would be a massive blow as the back line is just not the same without him.
The lack of poise in the back line combined with them again insisting on playing the high, flat line was a recipe for disaster on the night. It was burnt time and time again on the night as the pace of David Estrada, Alvaro Fernadez, and Mauro Rosales was just too much for any of Toronto's defenders. There was no Ashtone Morgan to track people down and Richard Eckersley was spending all his time bombing forward and barging into people which left Ty Harden, Aaron Maund, Miguel Aceval, and Logan Emory just searching for answers which they did not have on the night.
Going the other way Toronto did look a fair bit better but any time that they tried to establish some sort of rhythm and passing game the Sounders were more than ready to put in a tackle or commit a cheap foul. The main victim of those hack jobs was Ryan Johnson who was brought down for fouls a solid five times in the first half and only added to that total in the second half. The fact that a pair of yellow cards were handed out for tackles against RJ just goes to show the sort of physical punishment he was taking all game long.
Johnson did get his revenge for all the fouls by adding his name to the score sheet. Having scored a goal in both legs against LA Johnson continued his brilliant form to start the season. In the first half of the game he was inches away from getting Toronto on the board as he headed a ball off the cross bar and out. In the second half though he got a bit more lucky as his left footed shot hit off the corner of the goal frame and straight into the back of the net.It was a very well taken goal from Johnson. He did well to be patient with the ball at his feet on the edge of the area. After a few probing steps towards the middle Johnson cut hard inside on his left foot and found just enough space to get the shot off. Once it left his foot Seattle keeper Michael Gspurning was left with little to do but watch and hope it was off target. Luck was on the strikers side though as he put the shot as far into the top corner as possible as he fired it in off the corner on the goal frame. For Johnson, the goal was a fitting reward for all his hard work and for arguably being Toronto's best player yet again.
For the good things that the attackers showed the defenders were basically at the other end of the spectrum. None of the defenders really stood out as being terrible but that had less to do with their individual performances and more to do that they were just awful as a collective group. Harden was positively undressed on the Sounders first goal, they were all caught napping on the second, and on the third Eckersley and Maund did far too much watching and far too little defending.
The defensive issues really raised the question of what was Aron Winter thinking when setting his team up for this game. That high and flat defensive line was like playing with fire the entire series against LA so why would it work any better against the speedy attackers that Seattle has? It was clear that the likes of Estrada, Rosales, Montero, and Fernadez had more pace about them then almost all of Toronto's defender but Winter still chose to give them the chance to burn the offisde track. It happened basically from the start of the game and continued to happy pretty much the entire match.
All of Seattle's damage on the score sheet came thanks to David Estrada who spent what seemed like the entire game in behind Toronto's defenders. Estrada's first goal came at the end of a bit of a scramble in Toronto's box after some real questionable defending. First Harden ended up getting dizzy and falling down as Fernandez twisted and turned around him. Then when the ball came into the middle Terry Dunfield and Milos Kocic both ended up on the ground making awkward attempts to knock the ball away. Dunfield was on the ground but still trying to find a way to head the ball clear while Kocic was stuck trying to use his legs to clear the ball rather than get his hands on it. That allowed the scramble to continue and it eventually came to Estrada's foot and it was all elementary after that.
Estrada's second goal came on basically a clear break where he had little left to do beside slot the ball past a stranded Kocic. The third goal was pretty simple for him after Fernandez did all the hard work of running away from Eckersley who preferred a spectator role before rounding Maund who was unwilling to put in a tackle. Fernandez then laid it off to Estrade who just had to slide the ball home to complete the third hat trick in Sounder MLS history.
Seattle were certainly the better team on the night and were good value for the 3-1 win. They probably could have had more on the night but at least Kocic was able to come up with a couple of nice saves to ensure that the final score line was at least respectable.
On the Toronto end of things the two Ryan Johnson chances were basically it for good opportunities. Koevermans did manage to get one decent shot in on target after coming on for the second half of the game but it was never going to seriously trouble the keeper. There were a few moments of slight danger from set pieces as Aceval continues to look like a solid option for taking them but even though Toronto took more shots than Seattle they lacked any real danger.
The end result will probably lead to a lot of questions being asked about the choice to play that high defensive line but also about the starting lineup. Winter chose to start the game with Julian De Guzman, Ashtone Morgan, Joao Plata, and Danny Koevermans all sitting on the bench. That is four players missing from what most people would consider to be the teams best XI which was always going to make things hard against a strong Seattle side. To an extent you can understand the need to give players some rest after such a tough start to the season having kicked off the big games against LA but resting them all at once seems like a bit much.
Having Logan Emory make his first MLS start in defense would have probably been fine if not for the injury to Frings. Once Frings went down and Maund came on TFC were now trying to deal with two players in the back line making their MLS debuts. That was always going to be a very tough ask against one of the league's top scoring clubs. Add in Luis Silva making his league debut and having a fairly poor performance and suddenly there is in experience all over the field.
This was one game and it was against a Sounders side that many people consider to be a top 3 team in the league so TFC fans should try to keep everything in perspective. Sure there were some issues but many of those issues were also there against LA when the team still found ways to get a result. This team is obviously still not the finished product but they are improving and even though there will be growing pains still this season I expect nights like this will be the exception rather than the norm.
Toronto will need to put this game behind them and get back home after a long week on the road. Getting back to Toronto should be a welcome break for the team and should allow them to regroup and refocus before the home opener in a weeks time against the San Jose Earthquakes.
One final thought about tonight's game is that Ross Fletcher and Kasey Keller can stay in Seattle. Due to technical difficulties Sportsnet was not able to use their own feed and we were stuck watching one from Seattle instead. That basically meant that for two hours we got to hear a couple of guys talk like they were currently decked out in rave green. When Toronto made a tackle it was cynical and deserving of a card but anything Seattle did was just part of the game and not worth a reaction. There was also a whole lot of first names being used to refer to players and the word "we" kept popping up. I know they were supposed to be doing the local feed and all but even in that case I would have been annoyed by the general lack of attention to professionalism in the broadcast.
It was a night to forget and hopefully you all hard enough regular colour beer (green beer is bad as that is Seattle's colour) to help with that process!