They may have been on the road and down to 10-men, but somehow Toronto FC's 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire felt like a negative result. This in itself is a positive for a team who are starting to now be held, and hold themselves, to a higher standard than ever before. But it does not change the fact that Toronto FC almost coughed up a loss in a match that ultimately they could have won.
Jackson was the unlikely hero for Toronto FC, playing poorly for the majority of the match but surfacing when it counted to knock home a brilliant ball from Jermain Defoe. Harrison Shipp equalized for the Fire, who came very close to victimizing a 10 man Toronto on several other occasions.
It was a classic tale of two halves for Toronto FC: positive in the opening 45 before being completely outclassed in the second. But it didn't need to be that way. The domination of the Chicago Fire in the second half extended beyond the field. Just as Shipp exposed Toronto's backline to equalize, Chicago coach Frank Yallop was completely tactically superior to Ryan Nelsen.
Seemingly content with the play of his team in the first half, Nelsen did little to change the landscape of the match. Instead of adding a defensive presence into the match, Nelsen left two ultimately useless wingers in Jackson and Dominic Oduro on the field. It was Oduro who missed picking up the run of Shipp on the goal.
Nelsen continues to be incredibly stubborn when it comes to changing his game plan and it has hurt the team at times throughout the season. It appeared to be getting better as of late, especially considering matches like the thrilling 3-2 victory over the Columbus Crew. But this relapse was stunning, as he left his undermanned squad unchanged for 87 minutes.
The second half also saw Toronto abandon possession play completely, which nearly even at halftime, finished with Toronto having only 38.1% of the ball. This was partially down to a poor performance from the midfield. Jonathan Osorio and Collen Warner had some of their less memorable games for the club, as did the aforementioned Jackson and Oduro.
Up front, the club continues to ask far too much of Jermain Defoe. The problem, or positive but in this case a problem, is that he often delivers. In many ways Defoe once again masked offensive demons for the club by creating something with less than nothing in terms of service. That is the reason he is making the big bucks, but it cannot be counted upon every match.
The backline was once again the most positive aspect for Toronto FC. Nick Hagglund continues to fight for the starting centreback position with Doneil Henry. Granted, it may not be much of a competition considering the fact that Steven Caldwell is always one handball away from missing a match. Morrow and Bloom were good once again, but it's only a surprise at this point when they fail to have a decent performance. Bloom in particular deserves credit for an underrated ball to Defoe that ended up in the team's opening goal.
Joe Bendik was another bright spot for the team as he kept the club in the game late with a couple of brilliant reactionary saves. A major positive to this point in the season is that there are very few games where either he or Julio Cesar have played poorly. The same can be said of the aforementioned backline.
By not managing the game well enough in the later stages Ryan Nelsen was metaphorically, and literally, playing with Fire. Luckily for Toronto FC, the team escaped with only partial burns.