25 seconds. That was the total amount of time that had elapsed before Dominic Oduro gave the Chicago Fire a 1-0 lead at BMO Field. It goes down as the fastest goal in Fire history and surprisingly is only the 5th fastest goal in MLS history. The goal came as the direct result of a defensive lapse but this time for an unlikely source.
Off the opening kick off the ball was played to Milos Kocic who collected it and played a nice short pass out to captain Torsten Frings. Frings was then caught sleeping in possession as Patrick Nyarko raced forward and nicked the ball right off his foot. The ball kindly rolled into the path of Oduro and all he had to do was slot a low shot past a stranded Kocic.
It was clearly not the start that Toronto FC would have been hoping for but they did respond quite well. They pressed forward for much of the first half in what turned out to be a very wide open affair. Both sides were getting shooting chances and testing the opposing keeper. Reggie Lambe proved to be Toronto's biggest threat on the day as he was first well denied by Sean Johnson then later made a weaving run, before hitting his shot into the side netting. TFC finally opened their account at home for the season thanks to a brilliant strike by the Bermudan winger. Lambe collected the ball after Sean Johnson had punched Joao Plata's corner clear to the top of the 18 yard box. It did not take the winger long to bring the ball under control and unleash a shot that found the top corner and left Johnson with no chance of making the stop.
It was not long after that Lambe added a second to his goal tally. His second came after a bit of a scramble in the box that saw Matt Stinson and Sean Johnson clash for the ball after Ryan Johnson had played in a low cross. The ball slipped past both of them to Lambe who found himself with time and space to pick out which part of the net he wanted to hit.Talking about his goals after the game Lambe remarked, "I haven't seen it yet but when I hit it and saw it go in I just felt incredible. It felt amazing to have scored and then to score my second so close it was just like a dream come true." He was probably the only happy player in the dressing room after the match though.
That unhappiness was because after Lambe made it 2-1 Chicago basically went right down the field and leveled the score line. It came from poor marking on a set piece once again that allowed Gonzalo Segares to find all kinds of room behind the back line to apply the finishing touch. His equalizer came less than a minute after Lambe had given Toronto the lead. Toronto did continue to fight to finish the half strong but they went in level despite being the better side for much of the half.
Toronto started the second half well again but the pace of Oduro and Nyarko was causing the defenders a lot of problems. The eventual game winner would come as a result of that pace as Nyarko was able to run by Toronto's defenders to latch on to an Oduro through ball. Once he got on to the ball it was down to him and Milos Kocic. Kocic chose to come out and challenge him well outside of the 18 yard box but the forward beat him to the ball and was able to round him with ease. Then, despite the best efforts of Richard Eckersley, it was just a matter of Nyarko slotting home.
Toronto did continue to press forward and had a number of chances to level the score including a pair from Ryan Johnson. The first chance from Johnson even led to a bit of premature confetti shooting off as he just barely missed applying the finishing touch to Eric Avila's low cross. He followed that chance up by hitting the post only a few minutes latter.
In the end though even Milos Kocic coming forward for a last second corner was not enough as Toronto was undone by three preventable goals. The frustration around the team was clear to see in the post game as Aron Winter and his players continue to search for answers.
Winter was once again not willing to blame his system or suggest that any sort of tactical change could be in store. He instead commented, "I think defensively we need better players or we need reinforcements." The coach was quick to blame his defenders today for mistakes but at the same time deflect criticism aimed towards him for the quality of the players he has brought in. Looking at the moves to bring in Geovanny Caicedo and Miguel Aceval, Winter just dismissed it as not working out and Aceval needing some time. He commented again that "we need some other defenders" which is a bit puzzling because he currently has Adrian Cann, Aceval, Ty Harden, Aaron Maund, Logan Emory, Doneil Henry, and Torsten Frings who can all play centre back. He also pointed out the injured Dicoy Williams but if Winter is counting on him to turn things around that might be a bit foolish as the Jamaican international remains some ways off. Winter did assert that despite the six straight defeats to start the season his postion is safe and the three year plan remains on track.
Kocic seemed to be on a bit of a different page than his coach after the game. For the keeper the problem was simple in a very different way, "Its not about players, its about organization." When asked about the three goals allowed and if things have to change at the back the keeper replied, "It has to, otherwise we are not going to have any more chances to fight for this season. Its already a bit late, we can still change it, but its kind of like the last train to catch. We have to learn how to defend set pieces and in transition when we lose the ball in the midfield or we don't put pressure in the midfield on the ball it is easy for them to pass the final ball." Unlike his coach, Kocic pointed to the fact that the goals they conceded are not just on the back line as Chicago was often finding a lot of room in the midfield. That is a dangerous recipe when you add in the pace of Oduro and Nyarko. "If you don't have pressure on the ball in the midfield and they can pass it with Oduro and Nyarko who are very fast, If the midfielder, Grazzini or whoever, has the space to pass the final ball then it is so hard to defend. I am going to save a breakaway but I can't save it all the time." It was that lack of pressure on the midfield that proved costly on the third goal. "With the third goal I feel that if I stayed he would go 1v1 with me and maybe I had a better chance to save it but if I came out I thought I had a better chance to get it before him but I didn't. With the first two goals what are you going to say, you saw what happened. I don't want to go over them and I don't have much to say."
Kocic has been one of the players most willing to voice his frustration after matches this season and it is clearly taking a toll on not just him but the entire locker room. "Its very hard, it is extremely hard on players. I know you guys think you play the game, you take a shot, and you go home. Its not like that, its very hard for all of us. Personally it is very difficult. I want to bounce back after this game but it is very difficult for me. I have never had such a stretch to lose six games in a row in my career." The keeper's frustration went so far as to suggest that conceding goals like TFC did today can continue to hurt them down the road. "If you give teams a chance to score like that then the next teams that you are playing against are going to get a lot of confidence knowing that even if they are down a goal they are going to score because we don't defend. We are not tough defending so I think we have to change that."
When asked about his involvement with the team Eric Avila was pleased to have had his longest run out of the season but was not happy about the end result. "I came in as a sub the last couple of games and this time I started. It was disappointing about the outcome but I feel fine, I feel comfortable, excited but its just a tough day. Something that we need to continue to be a little bit more sharp and believe in ourselves. Its always nice to come in and start and contribute to try and help the team as much as possible but I always want to leave the field with a victory. Obviously that wasn't the case but I feel fine and hopefully I can continue and try and help the team as much as I can."
I asked Avila about his role in the squad in terms of if he looks to be a goal scorer or more of a playmaker and he replied, "The role there is just to be a playmaker and try to connect balls. Obviously I would like to be threatening. With Luis, I haven't really had a chance to play with Luis in the midfield as much as I would like this year but when he comes in he takes more of that presence as a playmaker and gives me the freedom to roam around the front and try to get some goals in or try to create opportunities." The problem is that there seemed to be a bit of confusion today for the nearly 20 minutes that Luis Silva and Avila were on the field together. A lot of the time it looked like both of the players were trying to fill the same role and the same space which is troubling. It leaves you to wonder what instructions Winter gave to Silva before sending him on and if it was made clear to Avila that he was now free to roam more.
In the end it was another defeat and another frustrating day at BMO for the over 19,000 fans that were there if you believe the announced attendance. All is not lost though as Aron Winter assured us that "everything is possible in this league." He also assured us that this team "has made a very huge progression" since last season. So pointless in 6 matches and they have made great strides. Always the optimist.
Kocic summed the feelings of the day up best, "Its preventable goals. We could have all done better. We lost the game, we have to move on." Think we have all heard that line before just a few too many times from players on this side. If you think things are going to get any easier just don't look at a schedule.