When I wrote: "Does anyone else sense an unpleasant ending to this trilogy?" in my preview I was kidding! Really! If I thought that TFC would listen to anything I wrote I'd go with something like this instead:
- Please actually play the game from the starting whistle. The Reds looked far too tentative to start the game.
- Put the ball on the net. This is not rocket science. To paraphrase Bull Durham: "it's a simple game - you kick the ball down the field, you kick the ball to your teammates and you kick the ball at the net".
- Let me stress the above point again - Put the bloody ball on the net.
- Pass. Really. Passing is your friend. It may in fact help you with points #2 & #3 which could in fact result in goals. I swear, this really works.
- Please stop playing Reggie Lambe. I mean this. Someone search his place, find the blackmail material and just stop.
- When playing the Union - do NOT let either team go down to 10 men as clearly this is the key to getting (or gifting) points.
- Did I mention finishing your chances? I didn't? OK - finish your chances! When you've got a 2 on 1 or a 3 on 1 - score. Simple.
- Please do not focus on glitzy names as shiny distractions in the off season. Buy some core pieces and build from there. This will work if done correctly AND endear you to fans more than a marquee player that won't be here until July.
- Stop with the pandering and the painful attempts at marketing and circus-like atmosphere. The fans are the atmosphere - let us be. Let us sing the anthem, don't force faux heritage nights on us and stop with the ridiculous side-show that is Bitchy's 'entrance' each game.
- Yes, the last two are general requests but needed to be said.
*We'll see if that works for the next game (and next season) - but don't count on it folks*
Now that I've got that out of my system I'll concede that this game had some things to recommend it. For a large chunk of this game Toronto looked good and Philadelphia did not look like a team that needed to win to stay alive in the race for a playoff spot. Both Steven Caldwell and Jonathan Osorio returned from suspension and Robert Earnshaw was back from injury. Caldwell of course started, as did Osorio in a surprise move from Nelsen slotted in behind Dike. Darel Russell continues to keep his place in the starting XI, as does Mark Bloom in favour of on the outs Richard Eckersley.
Bright Dike does indeed continue to be a bright spot (sorry, but it has to be said!) injecting energy and a physical presence not seen up top for TFC for years. Just have to work on that finishing...but he is enjoyable to watch out there. If he can be paired with some quality then dividends should come from his fearlessness. I think that Nelsen likely made the right choice in subbing him off as he's just come back from ACL surgery and that fearlessness that makes him a threat also has to give a coach fits in regards to his health.
Mark Bloom made a case for himself to be kept on as a bench player - he is NOT a starting RB - for next season. Not only did he fairly handily contain the behemoth that is Conor Casey, but he also had a timely goal line clearance in the first half as well. Bloom showed some good positioning and awareness coupled with an ability to get forward and send in a ball or two. And Caldwell's influence on the back line was evident from the beginning - he played a solid game and was a calming presence at the back - as he should be.
However, a few strong performances (and a good team effort for the middle 60 minutes of the game) don't negate the again many, many missed chances by Toronto. With a Philadelphia team that showed little until Antoine Hoppenot was subbed on in the second half, TFC had more than their share of chances to put this game away. Whether it was Bobby Convey's shot that just went wide of the post or Dike's not quite there touch or the missed passing opportunities from both Alvaro Rey and Robert Earnshaw (not to mention Earnshaw's free kick off the bar), or Earnshaw showing either his age or some rust following his injury when Gaddis easily caught up with him when he thought he had a run in alone - it's the same old story; lack of awareness, lack of trust and lack of finish.
It was a scrappy affair as well, with multiple cards (although it seemed like it should have been more - take a bow Danny Cruz - handed out including the red on Fabinho for kicking Rey (who also saw yellow for the challenge) after the two had wrestled each other to the ground, and a mystifying yellow (as opposed to red) on Sheanon Wiliams for a foul on Rey. All those cards - and especially the red on Fabinho - of course brought about the dreaded 10 men situation. Instead of Toronto being able to take advantage of the advantage they allowed Philadelphia to stretch the game and well, you watched you know how it ended. Six! minutes of added time led to a late game concession on a beauty - hey, I can appreciate quality - of a free kick from Kleborsen after a rash challenge by Doneil Henry. Sigh.
As most Toronto FC games are, this was again a frustrating one to watch. The only bit of joy that can be taken from this is that this loss hinders the Montreal Impacts chances at nailing down a playoff spot. Petty? Sure it is but if the silver lining from this is the chance to scuttle the Impact's season on the 26th then I'll grudgingly take it. In the end this is really the best that we can hope for down the stretch with TFC; that they play well enough to stay in games, that maybe they can get a look at some of the bench players for next season and well that's really it. So, see you on the 26th then?
*Heads up Stefan Frei fans - looks like Frei may be starting the next match against Chicago. While it has yet to be confirmed (although Nelsen apparently acknowledged it post-match), as the game ended Joe Bendik was apparently shown another yellow for dissent. And as Bendik already had a yellow for time wasting...well you know how to do card math. So it could be the first (and only?) time that we'll see Frei on the pitch in league play this season - even with pleas from some fans for him to start the final home match before his time with Toronto comes to an inglorious end.*
UPDATE: Joe Bendik's red card (from the second yellow) has been confirmed by Ryan Nelsen as has Stefan Frei's start against Chicago on the 19th as per Kurt Larson.