Toronto FC did two things right on Saturday against Sporting Kansas City and the good news for the club and its fans was that they were the most important things in terms of the final result. Toronto was very efficient with the few chances that they got scoring on 1 of their 5 shots and converting the penalty opportunity when it came around. They also limited Kansas City to just one shot on goal which was Claudio Bieler's goal.
Outside of that not a whole lot went well for Toronto FC when you look over the match stats. They lost the possession battle by a country mile with only a 31.8% share of the ball in the match, they only had 60% passing accuracy compared to the 81% that SKC managed, they only won 47% of duels (a stat I question), they were out shot by a tune of 16-5 (3-1 on target for TFC though!), and allowed Kansas to create 25 open play crosses plus 9 corners and plenty of freekicks leading to the ball coming into TFC's box far too often.
The good news is that Toronto did just enough right to win the game and limit the biggest threats of Kansas' attack. The fact that Kansas was crossing the ball into the box so often was good news for TFC as they are certainly not as threatening in the box as they were a year ago. With Kei Kamara off in England playing for Norwich and Bieler now leading the line, the Wizards lack that big option in the box to really create problems and win headers. They got a bit more threat in the area by bringing C.J. Sapong on for the second half who provided much more threat in the middle than Bobby Convey did in the first half.
Toronto did well to deal with all of the crosses and that primarily came down to solid work in the area by the trio of Darren O'Dea, Danny Califf, and Joe Bendik. If you look over the 25 open play crosses and 8 more from set pieces that SKC had in the game only 15 of them were successful. Of the successful ones, meaning they reached an SKC player, most came off of corners and even though SKC won them they were quickly closed down and couldn't do much more than fire in a blocked shot or a header off target.
The one real threatening cross came when Bendik was forced to get a strong hand on Sapong's header in the second half. The TFC keeper got just enough on the open header to turn it onto his bar and eventually behind the goal for a corner kick. It was the one time in the match that Toronto really lost a man in the box despite having numbers back to defend for much of the game.
Sporting ended the game with 18 crosses that were unsuccessful and most of them were dealt with by Bendik and the central defenders in front of him. Bendik may not be credited with a save but he got the key punch on Sapong's header and is credited with cutting off and catching 4 crosses. The defenders in front of him were even busier as Califf and O'Dea won a combined 16 headers, many of them clearing crosses, and were credited with 12 clearances on top of that.
That was the positive part of things for TFC. Despite giving up so much possession and barely seeing any of the ball after the opening half hour, the club limited the threat of SKC and controlled the middle of the playing surface for most of the game. By forcing Sporting wide and limiting them to crosses into a crowded penalty area TFC played to their own strengths which was conveniently a weakness for their opposition.
Bendik's solid performance in goal was clearly not about making saves as he really only had the one to make and had little chance of doing anything on the goal. He was great in commanding his area but also managed to show an improvement in his distribution over the first game. Against Vancouver he was only credited with 5 successful passes on 28 attempts but this weekend he improved that number to 16 out of 31 putting him above the 50% mark which is a very nice improvement.
There is still a lot of room to improve on those distribution numbers though. Part of the problem is that when TFC is dropping so many players deep he has very few options to aim for down the field and they are all being fairly easily marked by defenders with little to do.
If you compare Bendik's passing numbers to that of the opposition keeper in each of the first two matches you can see that room for improvement. On Saturday, Jimmy Nielsen completed a total of 21 of his 30 passes but what is interesting to note is that one passes that crossed the half way line he was only 4 of 13 with all of his incomplete passes on the day being long down the field. In the previous week Joe Cannon completed 16 of his 24 passes going an impressive 7 for 14 on kicks that crossed midfield.
So Bendik's numbers showed improvement but still a lot of room to go before they are in the same range as his counterparts. What should stand out as a bit of a red flag is the fact that over the course of two full matches Bendik has only attempted 4 passes that did not cross the midfield line and all of those came in the opener against Vancouver (completed 3 of 4).
The fact that Bendik is having to play the ball long down field almost every time he gets it is something that Toronto FC is going to need to improve as even the best keeper is going to have a low success rate on that sort of pass and it will result in more easy turnovers that you want.
It was not a problem limited to Bendik in the first two weeks though. Toronto FC actually managed to achieve a fairly good passing percentage in both games on short passes but they have a very poor success rate on longer passes of which they have been hitting a lot. Toronto is not likely to improve its possession or passing numbers unless they can find a way to connect on more short passes and not result to passing long down field so often.
So what about the new guy? Well, John Bostock turned a lot of heads with his debut and it was deservedly so. He was quite efficient in his work down the right side for Toronto completing a solid 15 of his 21 passes and drawing 3 fouls. What will have fans concerned about the game he played was the fact that he turned the ball over to tackles on 7 occasions which combines with his 6 errant passes for a total of 13 turnovers in his limited touches.
In the end, Toronto FC got the result that they were looking for but even by looking at just a few different stats you can see there is plenty of room for improvement as the team continues to build. 9 times out of 10 a team with stats like Toronto had on Saturday is going to come out on the wrong end of the result.