The final whistle had sounded and most of the Toronto FC players left the field immediately to head to the dressing room and go on with the post game events. Not so for Luis Silva though, the TFC rookie remained standing on the field for close to five minutes following the full time whistle. It was a clear sign of frustration from the rookie who did not seemed pleased with his effort in the second half after he came on for Nick Soolsma.
Silva was not the only frustrated figure on the team though. It was a sentiment that was clearly shared by Milos Kocic and Danny Koevermans. The big Dutch striker summed up the game accurately when he said, "We didn't score, then you lose the game, it's as simple as that." He seemed to take a fair bit of the blame on himself for that lack of scoring as the DP forward has yet to find the back of the net this season (or in official preseason games) and people watching the team might be starting to worry about his lack of production.
Though frustrated, Koevermans did not seem concerned about that lack of production as he feels that scoring goals really is quite simple, and that it's just a matter of time for him. "Just one ball comes in and its in. Its as simple as that. Today in my two and a half chances, two at the goal keeper, he saves it, and next week it goes in. When it goes in you don't have to think about it again waiting for your next chance. It means that the goal is close, it will come."
The result was so frustrating for the team because as Kovermans mentioned, "It is frustrating because we did not deserve to lose. Against Seattle you can say; okay, we deserved to lose but today we didn't deserve it. They had the penalty kick that wasn't a penalty kick, I think and Milos saved it with a great save. They had one chance second half, which wasn't really a chance as we had the ball and tried to kick it away I think and then in the block it came in front of his feet and that was a good finish. He didn't think and just smashed it in. We tried to do it to, we were close but every time a leg or a goal keeper, always something in between."
Being close in the match, or even the better team, makes it hard when you end up coming away with nothing to show for all that effort. The defenders only really made one mistake all day and limited the Crew to just the one good chance which for Koevermans was not even a really good chance. The other chance the Columbus Crew had was that penalty which Koevermans was not the only one to feel was a poor call from the official. When asked about the penalty call Aron Winter replied, "The penalty for them is no penalty, nothing for sure. For us, maybe you could give it. But for them, against us, Milos saves it, it was 100% no penalty. No penalty."
That was not the only area of concern from yesterdays match official. During the game Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum came out to challenge for the ball four or five times in the air. Each time he collided with Koevermans or Ryan Johnson who were attempting to win the ball but when the keeper went down the TFC attackers were whistled for a foul every time. When asked about the official Koevermans replied, "No, the referee always is right even if he is wrong. When he gives a penalty kick, a foul, and I think its not a penalty kick I am going to ask him why'd he whistle. Also with the goalkeeper sometimes when he is out of his box, the small box, and he is always defending him. Every time I go up or Ryan goes up and the keeper comes out and doesn't have the ball in his hands he whistles for a foul. So I come to him and I say why do you do that because I can understand if you protect him within his six yard box but out of that he has to hold it and he doesn't do it. That frustrates me but I think it doesn't affect my game."
He may feel that it does not affect his game but watching the game yesterday I felt that it was. Winning balls in the air by using his size and strength is a crucial part of his game. So when he and Ryan Johnson get called for a foul each time they go up it makes them hesitant to go hard to try and win the ball. In a game where TFC had 8 corners and 31 crosses from open play, not being able to go up in the air to battle for the ball is going to make a huge difference. Many of the corners and crosses were not well hit and ended up being wasted but when the good ones did come in there was either a hesitance to go up or when they did there was a foul called.
By the end of the game it become confusing that Toronto kept attempting to make so many crosses in to the box against a Crew side that was winning everything in the air. Every time Nick Soolsma, Johnson, Ashtone Morgan, or Richard Eckersley crossed the ball in to the box is was getting headed right back out by Chad Marshall or Eric Gehrig with relative ease. Milos Kocic commented on the lack of success crossing the ball after the game saying, "I think the reason for that is Columbus is probably the best team in the league in the air. I think we should maybe play more on the ground and stretch them out, because they're not very quick in the back. Chad Marshall is not very quick but he's probably the best player in the league in the air. It's like we played to their advantages, we didn't play to our advantages, on the ground, we kind of played in the air. I think that didn't help us."
It is a bit of a head scratcher that the keeper on the other end of the field would observe such an obvious trend but the coach did very little to make adjustments. Winter did bring on Luis Silva, Eric Avila, and Junior Burgos over the course of the second half which allowed the team to play more directly and a bit more through the middle of the park. The changes resulted in a number of good chances but it seemed to be a bit too little too late.
If you come into the match knowing that the Crew are such a good team in the air why start Nick Soolsma over Avila or Silva? Soolsma does most of his work by staying out wide and crossing balls into the box but his crossing was well off target and neither Johnson or Koevermans was getting on the end of them. If Winter had started Avila in the middle and had Joao Plata and Johnson cutting in from the wings the team would have been less dependent on crosses and maybe it is a different game.
Either way though, the team has now played 3 league games and more alarming than the 7 goals conceded is the fact that the much vaunted offense has only netted once. Winter did not seem all that concerned though remarking, "I think if you watch all the games, at the highest level, what you create during the game, let's say between six and 12 chances, it's a lot. And if you're going to compare it with other teams, we're ahead. We're creating at least between six and eight chances, it's a lot. The only difference is that we have to be sharper at the moments you receive, because at those moments, you don't get the whole game. Then you have to, at least, score."
When asked where this sharpness would come from the coach replied, "It's coming. I'm not worried about it. We are demonstrating that we are playing very well, even today; not only today but also last week, we're missing some players. We're still playing well. We dominated the game, creating opportunities, and that's, for me, a very good thing."
So from Winter there is no panic at all. In fact, he looked to Sporting Kansas City last season to show that it is possible to over come a slow start in MLS. So if the players are frustrated and the manager is not concerned where should that leave the fans? Is it time to start hitting the panic button around the club, and if not, how much longer do we wait before becoming concerned?
For now at least it seems that three good showings in the CONCACAF Champions League are serving to gloss over some serious shortcomings in MLS play. If the team goes out of the CCL on Wednesday and then struggles again in Montreal then I for one will have my hand hovering over that panic button. For now though, 31 games left and in the semi-final of a major cup is enough reason to remain calm.