If this article were like Toronto FC, there would be absolutely nothing of substance in the first couple of paragraphs. The club has started slowly, falling behind in each of its last four matches, and tonight against Houston was no different. But hopefully, again like Toronto, this post will pick up momentum as it continues, and finish in a respectable manner.
Tonight's 2-2 draw away from home against the Houston Dynamo is just that, respectable, nothing less, nothing more. It isn't good, because the Dynamo are not good. But what they are is a team who are significantly better at home than on the road.
For the first half of the match, it all felt like a re-run, as Giles Barnes was once again the catalyst of an early outburst by the Houston Dynamo. Instead of poor defensive coverage, it was a dismal back-pass from Bradley Orr this time that initially gave Houston the lead. Gilberto, and then Dominic Oduro were there to equalize for Toronto. Oduro's goal was particularly symmetrical, coming at almost the exact time as his equalizer against Houston just a week ago in Toronto.
The Houston chapter, however, did not have the same second half antics for Toronto. In fact, the team seemed disappointingly content with their earned point and may have left two more on the table in the process. It was the extraction of Gilberto that seemed to signal the end of Toronto's offensive efforts.
Even that one point could have gone out the window if it wasn't for the efforts for Joe Bendik, who had his strongest performance of the season. His positioning was absolutely brilliant as he challenged every player looking for a winner. None of them were able to beat him. It's hard to see the value in getting back Julio Cesar, considering the play of Bendik, at this point, especially taking Cesar's cap hit into consideration.
Another key to the preservation of the point was the team's ability to completely shut down Brad Davis, something they failed to do at home. This responsibility, and therefore the credit, falls to Nick Hagglund who was a perfect shadow for Davis on the night. Doneil Henry also continues to be in very good form in the middle of the park.
Offensively, a frontline without Jermain Defoe did very well against an admittedly poor defensive effort from the Dynamo. But Gilberto and, especially, Luke Moore, deserve credit for filling his place. Moore was central to Toronto's attack and played the creator role in Oduro's equalizer. Gilberto, for his part, looked plenty confident and took his goal very well. This is very important as Defoe will now miss the next match due to yellow card accumulation.
The offense in general has been a highpoint lately for Toronto. Even against Vancouver, where they only scored one goal, they created several chances and caused the Whitecaps to look genuinely concerned about their attack. Two goals against is no longer automatically a loss for the club, even away from home. Seeing this general offensive confidence is refreshing for a team who have historically never had this trait.
That confidence didn't seem to extend throughout the lineup on this night, however, as a couple of players were notably poor. Jonathan Osorio was largely invisible for the second straight match since being dominant against Houston at home. Meanwhile, Michael Bradley has clearly been less than 100 per cent since returning from the World Cup. Playing right beside Warner has done Bradley no favours, as his midfield partner was once again fantastic.
Bradley didn't help himself at all either, not that this was a bad thing. He was amongst the league's best players in the first half of the season, demonstrating in each match that he was the best player on the pitch. Seeing him in a more mediocre light has been disheartening, and has caused many to start questioning his acquisition. In full fairness, he has absolutely been overused lately.
So far this season, Toronto FC have yet to be completely convincing that they have learned from their old habits. Failure and doubt have yet to be entirely removed. But bit by bit, match by match, they are finding ways to get results, instead of just finding new and creative ways to lose. That is progress, and as long as it continues this season for Toronto has been a success.