Good job, good effort? That's probably the best description that you can give last night's Toronto FC match. Moral victory would also serve if you're searching for something to buoy your spirits after the Reds failed to fully rebound from a less than stellar first half.
First of all - how great was it to have a night game? After far too many afternoon games in the middle of the summer it was lovely to be back in the stands and not worry about heat exhaustion or sunburn. Not surprisingly last night's crowd of 18,000+ - apparently the second coming of the MLS messiah wasn't enough to make it a true sell-out except maybe on paper - was the loudest and most energetic I've seen in several matches. Yes, that could be because of the mini-streak, but I like to think that the night air woke a few people up too. Except for those people that tried to start the wave; leave that at the ballpark folks - there is NO place for that at a football match. None. Seriously, just no.
And I'd be remiss to not give a shoutout to the travelling support for the Sounders. They were impossible to miss at the top of the east stand and for a team that's on the other side of the country that's the most we've seen from opposition fans all season - kudos to them.
There were a couple of minor surprises to the Ryan Nelsen's S11 - once again starting was Reggie Lambe (please someone explain this to me) and Andrew Wiedeman getting the nod instead of Robert Earnshaw. Notice how I didn't say instead of Justin Braun - don't expect to see him start again anytime soon. As for Earnshaw; likely that even though he played in that game on Wednesday he's not at 100% full fitness so going the full 90 wasn't going to happen. Otherwise there were few surprises as Nelsen kept what has been the winning lineup together for another game.
The urge to call this game a tale of two halves (yet again) is strong, except that the Reds came out flying in the opening minutes getting a couple of corners - the first which resulted in a lovely attempt by Jonathan Osorio - and a shot for Jeremy Brockie that went just wide of the net. But that bright start would give way to a error that featured the entire back line when a possible offside was not called yet instead of doing what every defender (or player is trained to do - play to the whistle - the Reds' defense all pretty much stopped and allowed an Eddie Johnson header to easily find Mauro Rosales who slotted the ball past Joe Bendik.
However, other than that early push, the Reds looked fairly listless and even though they continued to win corners, every ball that was sent in by either Bobby Convey or Osorio seemed to land directly in the arms of the Sounders keeper. And then came the goal that stunned us all into silence. The own goal by Doneil Henry. To be fair to Henry it was a lovely little back heel that bounced past Bendik - hey if you're going to score an own goal you might as well do it with style. Unfortunately it also served to erase what had been an OK outing by Henry and firmly planted the goat horns on his head.
So first half over, down two goals and Clint Dempsey - who came on for the injured Obafemi Martins - still yet to score. The second half was sure to bring many more goals and wrenching disappointment to the fans - right? Well, not so much actually. I've no idea what Nelsen said to the guys in the dressing room at the half but whatever it was it sure woke them up.
Less than 30 seconds into the half a nice sequence from Wiedeman and Lambe - yeah, it almost killed me to write that - put the ball on the foot of Osorio who sent in a shot that at first no one realized was a goal as initially we thought that Gonzalez had cleared it but no, it was in! Huzzah - suddenly the Reds were within in a goal of keeping the unbeaten streak alive!
Shortly after that goal Robert Earnshaw entered his first league game in well over a month and proved to be a sparkplug for Toronto. Earnshaw was very surprising out on the pitch; showing not just his usual tireless energy but working hard on the ball, sending in a few nice passes and tracking back to help on defense more than once. But for all his effort he once again frustrated the fans when what looked like a pretty sure goal thudded off the post and his goalless drought continued.
The rest of the second saw Alvaro Rey come on for Lambe (a sub that we'd been calling for the entire game) for the final 20 minutes and - in a let's go for it move from Nelsen - Braun on for Eckersley right at the end before stoppage time. However even winning corner after corner and quite frankly out-playing the Sounders for much of the half, the final whistle blew and Toronto had lost 2-1 to the team in green.
What this game highlighted - and continues to be the only talking point really, and I refuse to get used to it - is that there is NO ONE that can score goals for Toronto. And nothing underscores that more than Brockie's unbelievable miss at the very end of the game. Somehow onside he had a clear path and still managed to hit the ball right at the onrushing Hahnemann. So Brockie plays his last game at BMO having scored a grand total of one goal; one. I won't knock his effort, energy or sheer desire to score - always getting into position - but one goal? You just know that he's going to go back to Wellington Phoenix and light it up, right?
Seriously though, it is painful to watch as your team is oh so slowly coming together - defense continues to improve, Matias Laba is a joy to watch, Osorio is the surprise (other than Bendik) of the season - knowing that chance after chance at the opposite end gets wasted because no one can put the bloody ball in the net. It's not unlucky, it's not (at least last night) for lack of opportunity, it's lack of talent. While most days I'm fine with the patient approach to team building by Payne and Nelsen the gaping hole up top gets harder and harder to watch each week.
All in all, we've watched far worse losses by Toronto FC this season. At least last night there was some solid play, some intent and hell some shots on goal. It just wasn't a consistent effort - yet another failure to play a full 90 - but at least they didn't fold and even better? Clint Dempsey - zero goals. I'll take a loss like that if it is part of a sign of things to come - as long as that sign says welcome to someone, anyone with his scoring boots on.