It was all going so well, Toronto FC had played a strong first half, and had a well deserved 1-0 lead. They then got a lucky break as Chicago Fire goalie Jon Conway let a long range Maicon Santos shot squirm under his body andin for a 2-0 lead early in the second half. The supporters groups, responding to the challenge of a strong and loud representation from Chicago, and only spurred on by the second half rain, were in fine form and everything was good for TFC.
Then it all went wrong, firstly Chicago made a substitution in the 58th minute, bringing on Orr Barouch for Gaston Puerani and switching to a more aggressive 4-4-2 formation. Crucially Aron Winter followed that by taking off Joao Plata, who had once again been the offensive catalyst for TFC, providing skill and energy. He was replaced by Alen Stevanovic in the 61st minute.
In the 62nd minute, Jon Conway made a great save to deny Dicoy Williams from a corner kick, Chicago went forward and a horrible mistake from Tony Tchani eventually led to a very debatable foul being given against Jacob Peterson right at the top of the box, Marco Pappa scored directly from the free kick, and all of a sudden it's 2-1.
From there, there was only one team in it and TFC were lucky to escape with a point, Chicago equalised in the 76th minute, and came closest to getting a winner. A 2-0 lead blown at home against another rebuilding team who hadn't won in their last 6 games, how the hell did that happen. Credit has to be given to Chicago, making a tactical change andplaying with desire to dominate the last half hour or so, but there was such a difference in TFC's play after the substitution of Plata that that really has to be the story.
Yes, it was TFC's 7th game in 22 days, so fatigue is a legitimate excuse, and something that's showing up a lot now. Last week against Houston, TFC just hung on for a 2-1 win, against Dallas in midweek, they never looked like coming back from a 1-0 deficit, and yesterday's second half performance just continued that trend. But why take off Plata, who hasn't played as much as most of the first team over the last few weeks, and when he's on the pitch looks to be the most energetic player out there?
The substitutions were all curious, for the second game in a row, it was the forwards who were taken off, with no relief for what must be a tired defence when it was under pressure. Adrian Cann, Dicoy Williams and Richard Eckersley have played the full 90 minutes for a few games in a row now, as have Julian de Guzman, Tony Tchani and Jacob Peterson in front of them. It can't be coincidence that they struggled towards the end of the game, especially in the wind and rain, and allowed Chicago to press forward so much
Plata had another very good game, combining very well with Tony Tchani and Dan Gargan down the left hand side, and TFC as a whole played very well. There were a few half chances already created before Plata scored, a good run cutting in from the left finished off witha low shot just inside the far post from about 25 yards out. He was impressive throughout his 60 minute game, as were TFC, getting forward well as a team and pressuring Chicago, making it difficult for them to get anything going. It was one of the more impressive 45 minutes from TFC all season, and a good sign that TFC are, however slowly, on the right track. If we can keep that sort of play going for a full 90 minutes, then there should be some good results that follow.
In the second half though and especially after the substitution of Plata, that changed, as if TFC thought the job was done and they just had to protect the lead and coast home. Aron Winter, when asked to explain the substitution, as well as saying you have to be careful with young players and that there's a lot of games coming up , said, "the score was also 2-0," as if he thought the game was safe. That attitude, combined with Chicago's switch to a more aggressive formation really handed them all the momentum in the game, and they just didn't have the energy to hold on.
It really shouldn't be the case that one player has such an impact on the team performance, but it really did make the difference, which is a bit worrying. Maicon Santos had a weak game and Alen Stevanovic was his usual frustrating self after coming on to replace Plata, so many moves ended with him trying to take on defenders and losing the ball, that loan move really hasn't worked out so far for TFC. Javier Martina didn't get many minutes, but wasn't all that impressive either.
TFC are just way too reliant on Plataright now, hopefully Alan Gordon will be fit soon to provide another reliable option up front, but right now the lack of depth in the squad is a bit frightening, especially as the games just keep on coming, and the Voyageur Cup final is next up on Wednesday.
Unlike TFC, I'll finish positively, it was a very good first half, suggesting at least the first eleven is coming together well and can hold it's own. The defence has looked ok recently, with three positions seemingly very settled, only the Left Back position still up for grabs. Danleigh Borman was away for personal reasons, and his replacement, Dan Gargan, though not the long term answer put in a decent performance. He has some obvious limitations, but given that he's not a natural Left Back, he played well there yesterday, and doesn't deserve the flak that he's getting from a lot of supporters. The midfield has looked more comfortable since switching to the more defensive 'point back' system, and I think Tchani had a very good game, as he seems to be getting a bit more comfortable with his role. Plata will have his ups and downs but another strong game confirms he's a legitimate threat, and I look forward to seeing him play off of Alan Gordon up front.
Though TFC remains very much a work in progress, and the end to last night's game was frustrating, there were a lot of positives last night, things are slowly coming together.