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Playoff Hopes Under Fire?: Toronto FC tie Chicago

Quincy Amarikwa never should have scored the equalizer in a 2-2 draw against his former team at BMO Field. But in the end the home side once allowed their opposition to stay around far longer than they should have, and it continues to catch up with them.

Martin Bazyl

It all stemmed from a block from Doneil Henry which sent the ball all the way to the edge of his own half. Gilberto passed it perfectly back to Luke Moore, who took one touch before volleying it beyond the defense. The play left Gilberto, one of the hottest scorers in MLS, alone on goal. Earlier in the season he might have dragged it wide, or hit the keeper's hands. But on this occasion he rounded Sean Johnson perfectly and slotted the ball into the back of the net for his first goal at BMO Field.

This could have been the defining moment of Toronto's match, ultimately a disappointing 2-2 draw, with the Chicago Fire tonight, but it really shouldn't have been. This goal was the team's response to once again needlessly coming out flat in the second half after a dominant opening frame, culminating in a goal from, who else, alumni Robert Earnshaw.

As for the defining moment of the match, it would end up being a Quincy Amarikwa stunner in the 90th minute that instantly transformed an encouraging victory for TFC into a moral loss. The goal had a bit of everything that has plagued Toronto FC as of late: ball watching at the back, a lack of healthy depth at the back, and the by-product of failing to close out a team

It was supposed to be the match where returning players gave Toronto FC a rallying cry in their push for a first ever playoff appearance. But instead, none of the three starters who drew back into the lineup impressed. Mark Bloom was likely the best of the three by default, but even he was not up to his regular standards. Jermain Defoe played 77 minutes of less than effective soccer, underlined by how good Luke Moore looked in his place and the contrast between him and Gilberto, who was once again in top form. Steven Caldwell fared the worst of the three, looking good, but then conceding to injury in the 22nd minute.

The injury situation to the backline didn't seem to improve significantly either. While reports indicate that Caldwell's withdrawal was precautionary, it is still concerning that he could only complete a quarter of the match. Mark Bloom looks somewhat match fit, but now the defence might be without Justin Morrow, who also had to be subbed off due to injury. The effect of not having his presence on the field was instantly evident, as both Chicago goals came from his former wing, Bloom filling in at left back with substitute Jackson taking over Bloom's spot on the right.

The replacements for these players have just not been good enough in defense, where early season promise has completely given way for Toronto, who have now conceded at least twice in 9 out of 12 post world cup games. Jackson was once again partially at fault for at least one if not both Chicago goals and there is no question that the team looked weaker when he came on. His experiment at the back surely has seen its final light. Also, if Bradley Orr is so injured that he cannot take this role why has he been dressed and on the bench for two straight matches?

Another growing concern is Toronto's inability to carry momentum from one half to another. There were very few feet set wrong by TFC in the first half as they outplayed Chicago, and did so with style, at every turn. But the bottom line is that they only scored one, and predictably didn't have the same fire coming out in the second half. The stretch of play that led up to Earnshaw's goal was far more at fault for this result than Amarikwa's final tally, and is the point at which Toronto lost their hold on the match.

The first half on its own was among Toronto's best of the season, albeit on top of some incredibly poor play from Chicago. Possession play was some of the best it has been for the club all season, as was the passing. If there was ever a case for the somewhat dysfunctional Collen Warner/ Michael Bradley duo being replaced by Bradley/ Jonathan Osorio it was this match.

Especially in the first half, Osorio was offensively dominant as almost everything positive in the final third for the club began with him. The first goal was a by-product of a truly world class ball that he played down the flank to Morrow, and that seemed to ignite his confidence. Bradley, on the other hand, was excellent in front of the defense. He played his own role in starting the attacks, albeit from a much deeper role than usual. If Warner and Bradley continue to struggle to play together, the former was far less memorable in this match, then Ryan Nelsen needs to quickly switch his midfield formation.

As seems to always be the conclusion, Toronto are still on pace for their first playoff berth. But they absolutely cannot afford to become complacent, as they have. They do not have enough points on paper to continue to charitably donate them to the opposition, especially at home.  As it has before, all this charity will inevitably lead to bankruptcy. They are now only three points ahead of New England in 6th, with the majority of their games in hand used up..