Well boys and girls that was a hell of a night now wasn't it? Can you remember the last time a TFC match had that much drama and more importantly when the team played that well? These are your Reds - undefeated in their last five MLS games, still ahead of the Red Bulls, in a playoff position and still with many games in hand. Not too shabby, right?
So why is the first instinct from tonight's game to feel disappointed when if you'd asked just about anyone earlier in the evening if they'd take a point from this game - everyone would say yes? When you watch your team outplay one of the best in the league for the second time this season and go right to the wire with those extra points, well it's hard to not feel a little disappointed. However on the flip side, once you get over that initial reaction, it's also difficult to not see a ton of positives from tonight's match.
Red Bull Arena in New Jersey has been the sight of many a nightmarish result for Toronto and they've not had a result in and new Jersey stadium in six years. Six. Ugh. But tonight was not one of those nights and maybe because this team is oh so slowly coming together. The lineup wasn't really a surprise with Gilberto starting on the bench as he's still coming back from a hip flexor injury, Dominic Oduro getting his first start and Collen Warner marshalling the midfield.
The start to the game was - in a pleasant surprise - all TFC as the Reds immediately took the game to the Red Bulls, making good use of their speed, and saw Luke Moore force Robles to make a good save before the game was even two minutes old. Ten minutes later Oduro would also put one on net and TFC continued to press as time and time again they seemed to come close (Oduro, Defore and Moore would keep trying).
But we all know that Toronto doesn't like to make it easy and in the 36th minute, after a great build up including a lovely pass from Thierry Henry and dummy form Bradley Wright Phillips, the ball was crossed to Peguy Luyindula in the box and several TFC players stood there while he headed it past Joe Bendik. Not exactly Toronto's finest hour. And yet, even though they started to play a bit tired and New York were gaining some control they went into the half still looking like they were in the game.
It was an odd feeling not thinking all was lost because of that Red Bulls goal. The only worry was which TFC would come out after the half? The tired, disinterested team we've seen far too often this season or the one we saw to start the game? Lucky for we the fans we got the latter - Toronto must have foregone their usual milk & cookies and whatever story Ryan Nelsen usually reads them because again they started pressing and ten minutes in it all came together as Jonathan Osorio sent a nice ball out wide to Oduro that he sent into the box pretty much right on the foot of Jermain Defoe - GOAL! Really it was just a lovely play and goal. And who doesn't enjoy seeing Defoe net another?
But the best - and oddest moment of the night of course came in the 72nd minute. Defoe had won a free kick outside the box and he and the recently subbed on Gilberto actually seemed to get into a scrap over who would take the kick when Ol Gil insisted and Defoe stormed off muttering and swearing. You could feel the faithful all cringing and wondering what the hell was going on. Is this where TFC comes to pieces - right before our eyes in Harrison, New Jersey? But then - well you watched, you know what happened. That gorgeous goal. That stunning rocket of a free kick that finally (FINALLY!) got Gilberto his first MLS goal.
But almost (but of course not quite) better than that was Defoe's reaction - laughter and delight and the two goal-scorers would share a laugh and celebrate together. Also, Oso's reaction is fantastic and then watch he and Kyle Bekker when they're all together celebrating - you can tell that they're both stunned by the whole thing. It's one of the better moments that I've experienced as a TFC supporter. But boy they don't make it easy, do they?
In fact they would make it even more difficult as in stoppage time (of course it was in stoppage time), the team seemed to forget that Tim Cahill was playing and was well, a danger; is there nothing he can't do in the air? Cahill sent a great ball into Bradley Wright-Phillips for the tying goal. SIGH.
That goal was definitely a dart to the heart for the team and the fans. But it highlights one of the glaring issues from this game and that was how TFC played the last part of the game. Late game subs by Nelsen are a bit questionable - Bradley Orr on for Moore - OK, that makes a bit of sense. Moore had been less than effective in the second half and Orr has been known to participate in the attack but is also useful defensively.
But it was the sub for Gilberto - taken off after aggravating his hip injury on the goal - that saw DeRo come on. If you're going to bunker (and it's up in the air as to whether they should have at all), DeRo is not the player you want out there - and there wasn't enough attention to business that led to the goal. As a proponent of Nelsen's it was frustrating to see him fall back on old habits and unusual subs. And seeing Steven Caldwell pound the ground in frustration and Nelsen throwing his water bottle spoke volumes.
However - there is so much to recommend from this game. Solid performances from most of the starting XI - Mark Bloom with a nice night, Jackson causing some havoc, Warner with an effective performance in midfield and then the yin/yang performance of Doneil Henry as he went from making perfectly timed tackles to silly fouls near the box and giveaways in the midfield. So while no goals came from his mistakes, it shows that there is still progress to be made in the maturation of Henry's game - but maybe not as much as we thought.
And again - if you'd told me that TFC would waltz into Red Bull Arena, boss the possession, boss the game even while only putting in a decent (not great by any means) effort and walk away with a point and come seconds from all three? I might think you mad - but maybe, just maybe they're turning into an actual competitive team. Fingers crossed folks and in the mean-time I'll take that one point and not think about those other two.