First off, note to self: always wear sunscreen. As a TFC fan I'm used to watching games in crappy weather so the blazing sun that greeted us at Saturday's match came as a surprise to me and my melanin challenged skin. Now that I've gotten that out of the way - and don't you feel all the better for knowing? - on to our regularly scheduled match report.
Once again a strong 45 minutes of play was wasted by a concession in added time, poor finishing and a mental meltdown. This was quickly followed by a less spirited second half as the heat (how's that 1pm kickoff looking there MLS scheduling gods?) and pressure from RSL overwhelmed the team.
There were bright spots in this game which makes it all the more frustrating. Toronto came out attacking and effectively pressing RSL. The combo of Jeremy Brockie and Danny Koevermans was perhaps not what Ryan Nelsen had wanted but with Robert Earnshaw out with a calf injury he had little choice. However the two worked well together along with Bobby Convey and Jonathan Osorio providing energy from the wings.
In fact it was Convey and Osorio who would have the early chances, with Convey taking a lovely pass from Koef but unable to connect. That game was the first one in which I'd really noticed Convey and thought OK then, I see why they added him to the team. By no means the standout, he did put in a good shift showing a willingness to get in scoring position or harrying the midfield.
The other early story was Koevermans - the big man was obviously rusty but even with that you could see what has made him so valuable to Toronto. The ease in which he held up balls and found space was refreshing and for a brief time gave the fans hope that this game would have a storybook ending.
Add in some great work from Matias Laba - have I mentioned enough how good this kid is? - calmly patrolling the midfield and stifling the RSL attack and Brockie (does Wellington Phoenix really need him back) getting more and more involved...well for awhile it was some of the most enjoyable football I'd seen from TFC in quite some time.
As the half progressed Toronto kept pressing their advantage and some decent passing and multiple balls sent in for Brockie and Koef still could not get past Nick Rimando. Things started to get a bit feisty throughout the half - signalling things to come - with a couple of yellows to RSL and one to Koef. It was a somewhat surprisingly physical game; whether the heat was making players sloppy and temperamental or perhaps just a hard fought match - for awhile anyway.
However 45 minutes of calm, controlled possession again resulted in zero goals...sigh. Well zero goals for Toronto that is. Instead, just as added time was starting RSL unleashed one of their patented passing plays (whee alliteration!) that found Yordany Alvarez just outside the box and he drilled a bullet past Bendik right before the first half whistle. With that you could feel the air being sucked out of BMO - while we may not have been stunned; this is TFC after all, but for some reason that first half was looking like it had potential. They were holding the league leaders at bay and looking pretty decent while doing so.
The second half featured more of the same - Toronto came out strong which was a nice surprise from their usual sleepy second half past performances - but even with repeated crosses from the wing (liking O'Dea on the left more and more), Koef and Brockie still couldn't find the back of the net. Shortly after that Nelsen was forced to start making subs. Koef was never meant to play for longer than 60 minutes in this game and came off for Luis Silva - which meant a slightly less than exciting pairing of Brockie and Silva.
And then shortly thereafter Justin Braun came on for Jeremy Hall. A bit of an odd sub but a signal that Nelsen was attempting to go for it - with what little he had to use. But instead the game became more fractious as cooler heads failed to prevail and what had been minor fouls or scuffles became full blown idiocy when in the 80th minute Tony Beltran shoved Silva to the ground (who may have kicked out at Beltran in the scuffle). What should have ended there became a head smacking moment when Doneil Henry again showcased his immaturity by jumping into the fray and shoving Beltran from behind.
Both Henry and Beltran were shown red cards for their part but really it's Henry's involvement that is the most worrisome. His behaviour is becoming almost a cliche as we wonder what he's going to do each time he's on the pitch. Yes, he's young but he's played with the big boys for long enough to know better. If he doesn't right this lack of common sense and maturity soon, he'll find himself back on the bench - rising talent for Canada or not.
The final 5-10 minutes saw Toronto throw everything but the kitchen sink at Rimando and RSL - even Joe Bendik came up to join in on the final corner in hopes of finding the equalizer but as almost always it was not to be. The game ended in an all to familiar loss with an all too familiar narrative. Excellent work by the defense - hands up those who'd like to have seen Caldwell here from the beginning of the season - and the defensive half of the midfield was negated by a continuing toothless TFC attack.
I don't fault the forwards for trying - at least they put shots on net - but that can't be something you hang the game on. For too long we've heard the 'good job, good effort' line; yes they tried, yes they showed some improvement but if you can't turn a single one of the many chances into a goal? Well then who cares about the rest? Toronto has three short days to find their scoring boots. If not, the Impact are going to make them pay for each missed chance come Wednesday night. Que-est que vous chantez?