If someone had told you that a Toronto FC team that was missing arguably its best player in Torsten Frings, did not have its best creative force in Jaoa Plata, and only had their goal machine in Danny Koevermans for 45 minutes, would come away with a 1-1 draw against a very strong Mexican side in Pumas I bet you would have taken that deal in a heart beat. So why then do I currently feel a slight sense of disappointment. It is probably because a win would have seen Toronto FC go top of the table for at least 1 day and all but ensure they would be advancing to the next round. At the same time though the single point from the draw is enough to ensure that Toronto will have something to play for in the 6th match day regardless of what takes place in Panama tomorrow night between Tauro and FC Dallas.
When the team sheets came down for Toronto FC it was just about as good as the fans could have hoped for. Toronto were fielding their strongest side possible based on who was available while Pumas did actually rest a few of their key players in advance of their key derby this weekend back in Mexico. So the door was open for Toronto but it was still going to take one of their best performances of the year to come away with all three points. We all know they did not manage to get the win but there were still a whole lot of positives in this match that give me a lot of added hope for the next biggest game ever when TFC heads down to Dallas.
Toronto FC were quite thoroughly outplayed in the first half of this match with Pumas creating a number of chances including a shot that left Milan Kocic rooted to the ground but luckily the ball bounced back off of the post. On the whole the team did a good job of getting back in numbers and closing down but the issue of teams just skipping over the midfield continued to show. A lot of the time TFC were in more of a 5-2-3 with Stinson dropping back to help in defense but that left a lot of work for Julian De Guzman to do in the centre of the park with very little support. Pumas were quick to take the ball forward on the counter attack every time they got it but Toronto FC were resolute to get back in numbers most times and keep the chances to a minimum in the first half. They managed to create a couple of half chances of their own but their first half goal was very much against the run of play.
The goal came from a well worked free kick that was taken from just inside the Pumas half. It was taken by Julian De Guzman and he lofted it in to the Pumas box. It was brought down by Ryan Johnson who headed it towards the 6 yard box. Danny Koevermans used his size and strength to secure the ball and then played it back to Peri Marosevic who did very well to calmly finish it into the side of the net where the keeper had no chance of getting it. It was a well worked goal and Danny K was again instrumental in making it happen. The set piece further proved the point in my eyes that it should not be Torsten Frings taking the free kicks but rather Julian De Guzman should be taking the majority of them as he seems to do a better job of placing them in to the danger area. I love what Frings has brought to the club but that was one area in which he was not missed tonight.
The first half continued in much the same fashion but Toronto FC seemed to have settled in to the match a bit more despite Pumas continuing to be the better team and creating more chances. Pumas did get their breakthrough early in the second half and it came off a corner. Some poor marking from Andy Iro allowed Palacios to rise up and have a free header. I will have to see this goal again but watching it live it seemed to me like Kocic might have done better with it as he managed to get both hands on the ball but could only push it in to the side of his goal. I am probably being a bit tough on Kocic but the real problem is that Toronto FC were yet again undone by a set piece and it is not a new problem. It has been something that has plagued TFC for basically 5 years now as they just seem to make silly mistakes on far too many set pieces. If Iro gets up and challenges for that ball it makes things a whole lot tougher and TFC are likely not scored on there.
The second half saw both teams creating a few chances but the best one went the way of Pumas as they hit the woodwork for the second time in the match. The shot, deflected by Andy Iro again left Kocic rooted to the ground with no chance of making a save, he was certainly relieved to again see his best friend come to his aid. I must say though that Toronto did show a lot of heart in the way that they pushed back after conceding the equalizer. They did well to create chances but the fatigue was evident as several players picked up knocks and could not keep going on their runs. Winter made some interesting substitutions including taking Koevermans off right after the half in exchange for Doniel Henry. It seemed far to early for the team to be going with a more defensive approach and Winter will surely be questioned about the move. It will be interesting to see if there was something wrong with Danny Koevermans that led to him being taken off, but considering all the minutes he has played of late fatigue might have been a factor. If it was fatigue, then the Chivas USA match again becomes a problem. The other subs he made in the second half made a lot more sense but the fatigue for certain players was obvious. Ryan Johnson was unable to finish a number of his runs because he simply ran out of gas at the key moment, Eckersley may have picked up a hamstring injury which can often come from muscle fatigue, and several others were barely able to hang on until the end of the game.
Despite the fatigue and being out classed for a lot of the game Toronto FC put in one of their gutsiest performances in a long time. Julian De Guzman continued to show improvement under Winter as he did well to captain a fairly young side and anchor the midfield in the absence of Torsten Frings. It also has to be noted that a number of young players turned in strong performances when called upon. Ashtone Morgan again showed that he is quickly turning in to a very solid defender for the team and along with Richard Eckersley, Ty Harden, and Andy Iro made up a fairly solid back four. Despite Iro making 1 or 2 noticeable mistakes the backline was about as good as I have seen it this season when Frings was not there to help them out. Stinson also did quite well throughout the match to come back and help out the defenders and despite picking up an early yellow card, which means he will miss the game in Dallas, he was willing to get stuck in to tackles and try to win the ball back for his team. Matt Gold also did quite well when he came on considering he was asked to play out of his natural position by going to right back for the injured Eckersley. It was an all round team performance and the only one who just seemed to be lacking tonight was Johnson but I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that was in large part due to fatigue.
So now the question is where does the draw leave Toronto FC in terms of their hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals. The single point means that no matter what takes place in Panama tomorrow night Toronto will have something to play for on the final day of group stages and it ensures that their season will remain relevant until at least mid-October. The current group table looks like this:
Pumas: 5 games played 8 points
FC Dallas: 4 games played 7 points
Toronto FC: 5 games played 7 points
Tauro FC: 4 games played 2 points
So the basic scenarios are if Dallas wins they will be top of the group going in to the final round of play and then Toronto will have to beat them by more than the 1-0 scoreline that Dallas won by at BMO earlier this summer. Then Toronto will have the tie breaker on Dallas regardless of what Pumas does and will be sure to advance. If Dallas draws against Tauro then any win by Toronto FC will be enough for the Reds to advance ahead of FC Dallas. Same goes for a Dallas loss. The draw tonight means that Toronto now has to win in Dallas, simple as that. What we will find out tomorrow is by how many they are going to have to win by. I will be tweeting the game tomorrow night but you can also log on to concacaf.com to watch the live stream for free.