Many times during this season, and the 11 game winless streak TFC are in, especially after letting in a late goal, we've been treated to Rob Ford-esque denial from Ryan Nelsen, or Fran O'Leary, about how we played a good game and deserved more, the sort of thing that leaves you shaking your head thinking "do they think we haven't just watched the game?"
Much like everything with TFC, taken out of context it's not the worst idea, deflect criticism from the players, offer praise in public, try and keep spirits up and all that, the sort of thing any coach does at times. Of course you can't take the context out of it, we've heard it way too many times already before Nelsen came along, Paul Mariner took it to absurd levels, and 'tis pity' became an Aron Winter catchphrase. Cynical eye rolling is practically the default mode for all but the sunniest of TFC fans, we just don't want to hear it any more.
For this game though, I'll accept it. TFC DID deserve better on the day. The first half was probably Toronto's best of the season, dominating the possession stat and playing some lovely stuff through the middle. There was passing along the ground, some sharp one two's and clever angles worked to get past the Union and into space. Bobby Convey and Jonathan Osorio , while maybe not having the same potential dynamic threat offered by a traditional tricky winger like Reggie Lambe looked much better in the wide roles, helping move the ball forward working as a team rather than trying a fancy bit of individualism that usually failed as was Lambe's usual M.O. Ryan Richter and Osorio down the right wing repeatedly did very well to make space for a cross with patient passing and one two's, it was all very refreshing.
It all kind of fell apart though at the end, the final killer ball or cross or shot wasn't there, it's best summed up by the first bit of action in this clip, a gorgeous move to set Silva free, but then, obviously not trusting his left foot, he ran towards the defenders instead of into the space ahead and the chance was lost.
Of course the game changed when Doneil Henry got himself sent off. The first booking came after he tried to get in the way of a kick out from Zac MacMath, which led to a bit of pushing and shoving that got them both booked. The second was one he could have no arguments about, a desperate lunge right at the edge of the box. The tackle didn't really need to be made, a very bad decision from a player with a yellow card already.
Ashtone Morgan came on at half time with Darren O'Dea moving over to the middle and in the second half, TFC again did well, there wasn't as much creativity and Philadelphia had more possession, but it was a very good ten men defensive performance as they generally kept the Union at bay with no real moments of alarm, and they actually scored as well.
Richter clumsily wins the ball, Hall plays a good ball for brockie who'd made a perfectly timed run to lose his defender and get behind the Philly line, he put in a good cross, whipped across the six yard box and Osorio finished it clinically. I do enjoy a diving header aesthetically speaking and while it wasn't quite a Keith Houchen-esque fully extended dive to reach it, it was still very very pretty, and more importantly perfectly placed, going back across the goalie, giving Macmath no chance, capping off a very very good game for the youngster.
Of course, after the initial celebration, the next logical reaction is "well, now we've got something to lose" and of course it happened. TFC sat further and further back, inviting more and more pressure. Philly, now with Conor Casey replacing Sebastian le Toux, still weren't really looking all that threatening, but playing like that, especially with ten men had to be taking it out of the defenders and midfielders.
The subs so far has been Morgan for Silva, a half time reshuffle forced by the red card, and Jeremy Brockie coming on for Robert Earnshaw in the 61st minute. Then in the 85th minute, Brockie was taken off for Koevermans. It was a good moment in and of itself, the reception Koevermans received brought a lump to the throat, but this was no time for sentimental substitution. If TFC had been two up, no let's say 3, actually make it 4 this is TFC after all, then a 'human victory cigar' sub would make sense, bring a player off who deserves a separate standing ovation, or as in this case bring on someone who the fans are all excited to see again.
Right before it happened Matias Laba ran really slowly down the sideline, looking clearly gassed, and then got hacked down and stayed down for a minute or two, but no, he was left on, other tired defenders and midfielders were left on, and instead the one replaced was Jeremy Brockie, who'd been on the pitch for 25 minutes. A poor decision given a win was much needed and would have been a better feel good moment than the subbing in of Koevermans was. Perhaps it was just about lack of options, the only other available players on the bench were Gale Agbossoumonde and Reggie Lambe, yes we only had 6 subs, despite reports of Terry Dunfield being fit and ready to go. Even if he wasn't quite ready, surely having someone, say Kyle Bekker for example, on the bench would be a better option than nobody, that just seems like another uncomfortably Mariner-esque decision.
Anyway, the inevitable happened, the pitch seemingly tilted more and more towards Joe Bendik's goal, the clearances became more and more desperate, it took a great tackle from Darren O'Dea to deny a good chance for Danny Cruz, but eventually the ball went out for a throw in, close enough to be an obvious long throw into the box, so effectively a set piece to defend. Time to figure out everyone's roles, know what you're supposed to do, for the captain or the goalie, or the new experienced centre back to yell and organise, the sort of thing you practice in training, nobody needs to be scrambling and caught out of position, should be simple stuff.
Here's some quotes from Ryan Nelsen on how it went down, and this is the one part of his post game comments that I'd really disagree with.
"You can’t fault the guys, three or four of them went in to win the header and probably didn’t get a clean header. Four or five then go to charge it down and if we block it we talk about courageous defending, but it went through the traffic and in."
"With five minutes to go, they threw up everybody, we’ve got uneven numbers in the box and it happens. The ball just fell to them and they scored"
He seems proud of them! As if, 3 or 4 guys chasing the ball to be the hero and win the header is a good thing, as if it's somehow coincidence that they did that and that just happened to leave a player open in the box.
Not just A player. Philadelphia's leading scorer. MLS' s leading scorer. The guy who scored on you when you did the exact same thing the last time these teams played for fucks sake. In my preview for this game I jokingly/fatalistically said "If they can remember to mark McInerney when he's stood in the 6 yard box.....then maybe we can put this losing streak to bed." Fair enough, it wasn't quite the 6 yard box this time, but still, it's criminally obvious, schoolboy stuff, if anything deserved the yakkety sax music that the half time Timbits game got, it was that moment of defending.
And so, once again, 3 points are turned into 1, and this time they can genuinely feel aggrieved, they did deserve better. It's so, so predictable, yet utterly preposterous. It's unbelievably believable. You think, surely one team can't do the same thing again and again, so many times, but if there's one thing anyone can know for sure it's that yes, TFC will concede late.
It's clearly in the players heads as well, they're thinking "this is the time we concede, let's absolutely make sure we don't do it this time" They tighten up, get away from the natural game that has served them well to this point, panic, make mistakes and thus it happens again.
All in all, this should be a positive report, take it out of context of the rest of the season and it's a good game with a tough ending, nothing to fret about other than the points dropped. There were a lot of good signs out there, it was the best game we've seen from a TFC midfield this season. But like Nelsen's post game comments can't be taken out of the 'yeah, yeah, we heard the same thing from everyone else' context, this game can't be taken out of it's context either. TFC's season has become all about the late goals, it's the one overriding issue that dominates everything and needs to be fixed, as illustrated by CSN's Tobias thing, which has inadvertently come to represent it all quite brilliantly.
All the baby steps forward and good play here and there won't count for anything until this whole late goal thing can be put to rest. It's a shame but that's the way it is. At the end of the game, there was a smattering of boos from the crowd. Based just on this 90 minutes, very harsh, as a comment on the season as a whole, very much deserved.