Saturday’s loss to Colorado may have been a disappointment, but there were valuable lessons to be learned – and a few positives for later on in the season.
That the first goal is crucial - TFC wasted numerous chances to take the lead, while defensive concentration when taking the game to the opponent is of the utmost importance – that the game-winning scramble came while Toronto was really pressing and mere moments after Kyle Bekker hit the post is notable.
Colorado came in with a game-plan, which they executed to perfection. Pablo Mastroeni turned the tide by noting that in Toronto’s search for a goal, gaps were opening, which he intended to exploit with the additions of Deshorn Brown and Dillon Serna.
The loss, though a set-back, is hardly anything to get upset about.
Matches against the Western Conference can be viewed solely as point-grabs, a chance to take a bit extra without losing ground on the eastern playoff race.
Even the most optimistic of band-wagoners would not have anticipated nine points after five matches – no matter how one qualifies it that is pretty impressive.
And never mind the much-discussed absences, if anything the past two matches have revealed that this is a club with a little more depth and a lot more fight than many expected.
But it’s back to work come Saturday when the club hits the road once more to face yet another Western Conference opponent, their fourth of the year.
FC Dallas will pose difficult questions of a still-injury-riddled Toronto side – to sum it up in a sentence, if good teams don’t lose two in row, are either of these good teams?
A closer look at FC Dallas is in order…
Last season was a rollercoaster for Dallas and not one of those good ones full of rises and falls, twists and turns.
It was more like a log-ride, rising high at the beginning, only to fall with a splash (or thud) – at the end, all wet and wondering what the heck just happened.
That disappointment, just one win in their final fifteen games having topped the table early in the year, prompted the end of Schellas Hyndman’s six-year reign as head coach.
His replacement, Oscar Pareja, was tempted away from a young, impressive Colorado side he carefully crafted to rejoin a club where he both played and coached for many years.
With the switch at the top came some significant changes in the squad, talisman and former MVP David Ferreira, hometown boy Kenny Cooper, Eric Hassli – formerly of Toronto, and Jackson – currently in Toronto, amongst others, were allowed to move on.
Their replacements included some proven MLS grit in Adam Moffat and Hendry Thomas, who was reunited with Pareja after spending time together in Colorado, and some foreign firepower in strikers David Texeira, a Uruguayan transferred from FC Groningen in Holland, and Andres Escobar, a Colombian on loan from Dynamo Kiev in Ukraine.
Another new face at the club in Canadian draft pick, Tesho Akindele, who saw his first minutes at the end of their most recent match against Seattle.
Their projected lineup is as follows: Chris Seitz in goal; from right to left – Zach Loyd, Stephen Keel, Matt Hedges, and Jair Benitez across the back; Hendry Thomas and Michel sitting deep, with Je-Vaughan Watson, Mauro Diaz, and Fabian Castillo across the top of the midfield; Blas Perez may return to the starting lineup as the sole striker
Starting up top, Dallas has plenty of options should Pareja opt to keep Perez on the bench once more – a slight hamstring issue saw him miss training and rested last weekend. Should he not be present, expect Texeira in that role, one he has handled well in their last two matches.
There was one glimpse of Escobar, back against Kansas City, but Pareja has stated he is in no rush for the Colombian to be hurried into the lineup – he is listed as questionable with a lower back strain anyways, while Akindele did well in his brief cameo and will be in line for further minutes throughout the rest of the season.
The attacking midfield trio is set in stone, having appeared as a unit in all six matches to date. Behind them there are options, with either Moffat or Andrew Jacobson available to provide a slightly different look.
At the back, George John is nearing fitness, but Saturday may come too soon for him to be integrated. A pair of homegrown prospects - centre-back Moises Hernandez, who has spent much of the last two seasons on loan to Guatemala and Costa Rica, and left-back/central mid, Kelyn Acosta - have seen some minutes this year with the club.
In goal, Raul Fernandez has recovered from a sports hernia to return to the bench after high-touted Richard Sanchez backed-up Seitz through the opening month. Seitz has done well, but Pareja may opt to return his number one and Peruvian national keeper, Fernandez between the posts.
Plenty of options to consider, the most likely event is that Pareja will look to inject a little more energy at the base of the midfield, considering the nature of the loss to Seattle on Saturday.
Dallas lead the league after six matches, with thirteen points from four wins, a loss, and a draw to their name.
They began the season with a 3-2 win at home over Montreal. Sanna Nyassi opened the scoring after ten minutes, but goals from Castillo and Perez (from the spot) put Dallas ahead before half-time. Diaz would add a third two minutes after the restart and Andrew Wenger would find consolation around the hour mark.
They would follow that win with a 1-1 draw in Kansas City, where centre-backs Aurelien Collin and Matt Hedges traded goals in the final ten minutes of play.
More late goals would come the next week back home against Chivas. Castillo and Watson would score seven minutes apart after the 71st minute, but Cubo Torres drew one back in the 81st, before Michel sealed the 3-1 result with a free-kick in the 86th.
A stern home test followed, when Portland came to town in search of their first win, but Perez nabbed one deep into first half stoppage-time to open the scoring. Hedges would be charged with an own-goal when Max Urruti’s shot deflected off his leg to handcuff Seitz, but Diaz once more proved influential, finding space for a winner in the 84th minute to win the match 2-1.
With Rivalry week came a trip to Houston, the Texas derby and a duel for the Mountain Howitzer known as El Capitan. Houston looked the better side, but Dallas stole the lead in the 31st, when Ricardo Clark tripped up Diaz in the box and Michel tallied from the ensuing penalty kick. Clark would find redemption ten minutes later and the sides entered the half tied at ones.
But a red card to David Horst on the hour turned the match and Watson, a former Dynamo himself, would score directly from the restart and add another in the 70th, either side of a Giles Barnes own-goal as the match finished 1-4 to the visitors.
But that three-game winning streak and five-match unbeaten run to start the season would come crashing down last weekend, losing 2-3 at home to Seattle.
Texeira took advantage of Stefan Frei’s misread of the ball to nod in the opener after ten minutes, but Clint Dempsey leveled in the 22nd from an unstoppable free-kick. Michel would retake the lead for the home side in the 42nd from the spot after DeAndre Yedlin foolishly elbowed Texeira in the chest.
Dempsey, however, would not be stopped and it was his pass that Keel turned into his own-net in the 75th before finding his second of the match, the winner, in the 85th after a cutting one-two with Chad Barrett.
It was Dallas’ first loss of the season.
Be sure to check back for Part Two of the preview, going over the game film for strengths and weaknesses and highlighting some points of interest.
Unsure of the value of such an exercise?
Consider this excerpt from the Colorado examination - "Toronto should definitely look to exploit that side when on the counter – with Jackson surging up the attacking right, it will open up the far-side of the pitch, while committing an extra man into the box will often see fortune favour the bold."
It followed a section that included this goal by New York’s Thierry Henry:
Well, this was one of TFC’s first, and perhaps best chances from the run of play against the Rapids on Saturday: