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DC United 3:3 Toronto FC. Don't blame Iro, or De Ro, blame Winter.

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Ben Olsen may or may not be happy with the ref.  Difficult to tell
Ben Olsen may or may not be happy with the ref. Difficult to tell

Dwayne de Rosario was a man possessed who stuck it to Toronto FC last night, and that was just about the only predictable thing that happened in one of the most crazy and eventful games I've seen in a long time.  The eventful craziness had two architects, referee Jason Enno, and TFC coach Aron Winter.  

Enno gave an early red card to DC goalie Bill Hamid for a tackle on Eric Avila that I'll politely refer to as 'a goalkeepers challenge', it wasn't violent, but it was unnecessary and as clumsy as can be.  That forced DC United to make a sub to bring in their back up goalie Steve Cronin, so they had to play 83 minutes plus stoppage time with 10 men, and a goalie who played like he belongs on the bench, both of which really changed the game.  Enno also called a penalty in the 87th minute, mere seconds after TFC had taken a 3-2 lead, which allowed De Rosario to clinch his hat-trick and salvage a 3-3 tie, a result-changing decision if ever there was one.  Both of those decisions though were correct, and despite protestations for the team affected, really weren't that controversial, where the ref really blew it was on TFC's second goal.

Over at Black and Red United, they have a great post about this goal up, with an actual section of the referees report, plus comments from the sub being brought on, Ethan White, as well as video of the whole incident, it's well worth a read.  Basically the ball went out for a TFC throw in, the ref casually waved White on to the pitch, as if he were an injured player returning, rather than an official substitution which usually involves a much more formal stopping of the play.  White was hesitant because of that, but TFC took a quick throw in before White was anywhere near in position, and the ref was still waving to White to come on for a good three seconds after the ball was put back into play.  

Maybe going by the exact rules, the ref had done as much as he legally had to to allow the substitution, but the only reasonable reaction is to blow the whistle, stop play, clear up the confusion and THEN let TFC take the throw, instead he bottled it and just let play continue.  That meant Julian de Guzman had plenty of time and space to line up a 30 yard shot that he incredibly buried.  To paraphrase one of my favourite bits of commentary ever from one of England's greatest refereeing controversies(1971, Leeds United v West Brom, can't find clip with commentary anywhere sadly,) DC went mad, and DC had every right to go mad.

So that's the ref's contribution to a wild game, I'll get into Aron Winter and the effects of his decisions after the jump.

DC were down a man and with a back up goalie in net after only 7 minutes had been played, you'd think it'd be all TFC from there right?  In a way it was as United sat back to play defensively and hope to hit TFC on the break, giving TFC massive amounts of possession.  Richard Eckersley moved into a more attacking role, almost playing as a Right Winger, and doing that very well, much more effectively than Ryan Johnson who had a weak game after excelling as a Left Winger, Centre Forward and Attacking midfielder since his arrival.  The problem was that the reds barely did anything with all that possession, moving the ball around too slowly to be able to take advantage of their numerical supremacy.  Meanwhile DC's counter attack plan was working brilliantly, they took advantage of the space left behind Eckersley on TFC's right many times, and had more scoring chances than TFC created.  They scored on one of them, and of course it was Dwayne de Rosario who did the damage.  Taking the lead enabled DC to park the bus in front of goal even more, and TFC finished a listless first half looking uninspired and unlikely to score despite having 66% of the possession.  Enter Winter.

At the start of the second half, Doneil Henry was taken off for Peri Marosevic, a welcome statement of attacking intent that paid off quickly as Steve Cronin punched a cross into the back of a DC defender and Marosevic pounced on the rebound to flick the ball into an empty net in the 52nd minute.  But Winter didn't stop there, oh no.  In the 50th minute, Matt Stinson was brought on for Eckersley, and in the 54th minute, after TFC had equalised, Julian de Guzman came on for Terry Dunfield.  Torsten Frings was moved back into defence, TFC were now playing the last 40 minutes or so with 3 at the back (including a converted midfielder and a rookie left back in Ashtone Morgan) and no further substitutions, Winter had gone all-in.

In a way it worked, De Guzman got TFC's second with help from the ref as described above, and towards the end of the game, Danny Koevermans scored, taking advantage of an excellent screen of the goalie by Andy Iro to knock home a corner.  Three goals in the second half, you can't complain about that.  But, and this is a big but, that whole three at the back thing caused all sorts of problems at the defensive end.

The main problem with it was the personnel involved.  TFC really really need a commanding Centre Back, someone to match the skill and leadership that Frings brings to the midfield.  That hypothetical player may well have been able to marshall the back line to be able to handle whatever counter attacks 10 man DC threw their way.  Andy Iro is not that player, he conclusively proved it last night, but I find it hard to blame him, he should never have been put in to that position.

Iro is what he is, a decent MLS level defender, not a superstar by any means, not the guy you should be building your defence around, but someone who can do a good job when partnered with a top level player in an organised team, which is the situation he played under at Columbus.  In that regard, he's very similar to Ty Harden, Dan Gargan, Nick Garcia and all the other defensive scapegoats that TFC fans have found recently, who were really guilty of nothing more than being asked to do more than they're capable of.  Until we get that elusive commanding Centre Back, all these role players are going to continue to struggle.  The only time we've looked good defensively is under Preki when the defenders we had at the time were helped out by a more committed defensive system, thus weren't asked to do too much, were more comfortable and were generally able to do their jobs well.  Every other version of TFC has been a bit of a fiasco and a deathtrap for defenders, and Winter's 2011 version is no diffferent, now with 46 goals against in 25 games, closing in on the expansion 2007 teams's record of 49 in 30.

Asking Iro to come and be THE MAN within that defence, with an ever changing cast of players around him, was always going to be very very tough, and he hasn't really convinced so far, to now ask him to run a 3 man defence with Frings and Morgan was an absolutely desperate gamble.  It almost worked but the pressure told on Iro, first of all he made a terrible mess of a very straight forward play, completely whiffing on a cross, allowing the ball to run to De Rosario, who rounded Frei for his second.  He very nearly gifted DC a third with an underhit back pass to Frei, and then just after TFC scored their third, he did just that, bowling over a DC player in the box for a penalty (that's 3 in 3 games now conceded by Iro, some kind of record?) which De Ro converted for his hat trick.  DC smelt blood by this point and had two very good chances to win it injury time, and TSN's broadcast ended with a picture of Iro sat on the pitch looking a broken disconsolate man.

Like i said, I don't blame Iro, and It's also a bit difficult to blame Winter as TFC came the closest they have to getting an away league win this season.  It just massively exposed how weak our defending options are, I wouldn't be surprised to see Iro rested with Dasan Robinson given a chance in the next game.  I'm certainly not willing to give up on Iro, and am still convinced he can be that solid dependable nothing flashy kind of Centre Back that TFC needs, but only if that's all we ask from him.  As for being more than that, he conclusively failed that audition last night.

All in all, a very entertaining match, alternately thrilling and frustrating.  It's a shame TFC couldn't hang on for 3 points, but really, points mean nothing for TFC at this stage, so entertainment, while learning valuable lessons about our squad is probably the best we can hope for, so thanks to Jason Enno and Aron Winter for providing that in spades, and I suppose I should also say a grudging well done to Dwayne de Rosario, who probably enjoyed that match a lot.