Toronto FC 0:1 Columbus Crew. Positives to be found, but Frei the big concern

Al Messerschmidt

It was the first game of preseason. It looked like it.

Well, strange camera angles, distant penalty areas and disorienting editing aside, it's good to have TFC back. The first game ended in a 1-0 loss to the Columbus Crew, the goal given up, and stop me if you've heard this one before, from a set piece, Gale Agbossoumonde with a weak challenge to allow Glauber to get the header on target and past Stefan Frei. The closest TFC came to an equaliser was from a Terry Dunfield header in the 81st minute that hit the post. Aside from that, and a couple of free kicks just outside the box, TFC didn't really create all that many chances, and 1-0 is about right really.

It really was never about the result though, instead it's about seeing which players stick out, which unsigned players impressed, what clues can be found about how the season might play out, all that stuff, so what did we learn?

Well defensively we didn't look too bad at all. Danny Califf didn't play at all, with Gale Agbossoumonde starting at centre back alongside Darren O'Dea. Despite the lapse that led to the goal, Agbossoumonde looked good, definitely better than I expected. If he can keep that up, then I'll feel a lot happier about TFC's defensive coverage.

In midfield, Jonathan Osorio looked alright in his time out there, whereas Argentinian triallist Nicolas Cabrera was very quiet, not really doing much at all to impress. At least he got the chance, Trinidadian Joevin Jones didn't get any time at all. Presumably he's injured, would be incredibly quick if he's already been judged not good enough. Emery Welshman also made an impression, had a very lively first half.

Up front I though Justin Braun had a good game while he was out there, doing all your target man centre forward work, winning balls in the air, holding the ball up to maintain possession and linking play well. I doubt he's got many goals in him, and he didn't get any good chances today, but he gave an early glimpse of what he can contribute today.

That's about it really as far as individual players that stood out, but it's how the team played as a whole that was probably the most positive thing, giving an idea of what we might come to expect under Ryan Nelsen. The most noticeable thing was something that Nelsen and Kevin Payne have talked about and that was aggressive pressing of the ball, high up the pitch when Columbus had possession. It was must noticeable in the first half, before fatigue or maybe just the effects of all the subs made in the second half lessened it, but TFC were doing a good job of hassling Columbus and not letting them settle, forcing them to give possession up cheaply.

All that off the ball work only gets you so far of course and it was with the ball that TFC didn't look all that good. Pre season rustiness can be used as an excuse for sure, the passing wasn't at it's sharpest, and a few good runs went unrewarded as the pass never came. Mainly though, that's down to a lack of quality, the need for reinforcements was on display throughout as TFC rarely looked like having the imagination or quality to break through against the Crew. Too early to be saying that? Maybe, that was after all the first game, but at the same time, first kick is a mere 3 weeks away, and today definitely showed that the quality of TFC's squad is as pressing a concern as the quantity. It's not just about finding the filler, the veteran backups or the kids with potential to fill out the squad behind the first team, there's a serious need for first team quality players.

One area there hopefully won't be a need is in goal, but Stefan Frei didn't help that by getting injured in the first half in what could potentially be the most important thing to happen in this game. He came out to meet Ryan Finley as the Crew striker chased a long ball behind the defence. Out of his box, Frei commited and used his head to clear the ball, a split second before Finley's boot got there and he took the kick to the head. He left the game, walking off with a towel to his face and went to hospital for further examination. Hopefully it's minor, some cuts and bruises or at worst a busted nose, rather than a fracture or concussion that could keep him out longer. Though Joe Bendik did alright replacing him, it'd be a big blow if Frei once again missed time this season.

In summary, a decent performance with some bright spots and good moments to hang onto, but ultimately a loss. Can't help but think we'll be seeing a lot of games like that this year.

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