I think the best description of Toronto FC's game against Real Salt Lake this weekend is "So Close Yet So Far Away". So close in that Toronto turned around the game in the second half and scored a goal to even up the score line, and depending on who you talk to, you could argue that Toronto scored two goals. So far away in the sense that Toronto ended up still losing because of reoccurring issues.
It Never Feels Like, Somebody's Watching Me
Real Salt Lake didn't exactly have a stellar game, but what they did do is realize Toronto FC is not gifted at marking. Now to be fair, I felt like the back line had their best game this season. They were really key in moving the ball up the field in counterattacks and they stopped Real Salt Lake's offensive effort in the second half to turn the tide of the match. Yet, when push came to shove and Toronto had to do what most teams do when defending and help their goalkeeper to face easy shots, they did not do so. In fact, both goals came from some atrocious marking jobs. Let's take exhibit A.
This is seconds before Luke Mulholland’s goal, he is number 19. Look at how open this man is. And Toronto seems completely unaware of his existence. Credit does go to Javier Morales for feeding him a brilliant cross, but this should actually never happen. Now there are two thing wrong with this specifically. First is Benoit Cheryou, who is supposed to be watching where Mulholland is in this situation. In fact if you watch the goal, you’ll see he checks back behind him to see where Mulholland is a few times. Second thing wrong is that there are two people on Devon Sandoval. Correct me if I’m wrong, they probably could have had whoever is on the left watch Mulholland instead of just having a defender just stand around really awkwardly overcompensating for Sandoval. It might sound like I’m being harsh, but when you have this situation you get Exhibit B.
You have Ashtone Morgan marking someone, Clement Simonin marking someone, and Casper the Friendly Ghost marking Mulholland. This kind of awareness of the opposition’s position is something that Toronto is really lacking, which means they get feasted on by well-placed crosses. It happened last week with Columbus and it happened this week against Real Salt Lake… twice. Lay your eyes upon Exhibit C.
This is seconds before Jordan Allen’s game-winning goal. Look at how clustered everyone is. There are 5 people around Sandoval, none of them really watching anything around them. The goal didn’t come from this directly, but watch the goal and look at how they spread back into a line. Exhibit D ladies and gentlemen.
This is not fair to Joe Bendik. It makes perfect sense for Hagglund to think this cross could be coming to Sandoval, who he’s in an OK position to stop. Unless he is Mr. Fantastic and he can stretch himself to be 9 feet tall, there’s no way he could have stopped that from going to Jordan Allen. The only way that could have been prevented would have been a more orderly way of spreading out after the Sandoval dribble. Toronto has GOT to work on this, because they get picked apart like situations like this. Even Alexi Lalas said "from a defensive point, that is so Toronto". They need some better communication and some better awareness, more than just what is in front of them.
The Lone DP
With Altidore and Bradley out, I half expected Toronto to reel a bit. Sebastian Giovinco getting snubbed from the Italian team left him alone as the DP King of Toronto, but he and the team didn’t let their absences keep them down too badly. We got to really see how awesome Giovinco is at set pieces, as he took 10 corners and he laid down a really great shot off a free kick in the 78th minute. In fact, he had some great chances, but Real Salt Lake keeper Jeff Attinella had his number. Giovinco looks to be getting his sea legs under him as the season progresses, and his bigger role in this game may give him the confidence that could push him forward. Sure, playing for Italy would have been even better, but he made the best he could from the situation.
The Goal That Never Was
Speaking of Giovinco, he laid down a very attractive cross into the box in the 72nd minute that found the forehead of one Nick Hagglund and cracked into the bottom left corner of the goal. It was one of the best goals that didn’t count I’ve seen in the MLS so far. The ref called a foul on Hagglund, which on looking at the video, kind of looked like Chris Schuler just threw himself down and Hagglund tripped over him. I’m really not sure. Toronto certainly could have used that goal and I’d love to know what exactly happened that made the ref call off the goal, but I am one to believe the great teams make up for bad calls. They did try, but Toronto’s chances would not go. It’s just one of those things you just shake your head at and hope it doesn’t happen again.
Exhibit E is what the Toronto FC subsitutions did during the game. So Daniel Lovitz wasn’t exactly productive in his 13 minutes in after coming on for Ashtone Morgan in the 77th minute, but Jackson and Bright Dike instantly impacted the game. They both really bolstered the effort towards the final third, especially Jackson, which you can see by how his passes entered dangerous territory. Dike’s pass to Jackson for his goal in the 88th minute was really nice and if Real Salt Lake didn’t put in a last ditch effort to get ahead, it would have been great to see what he and Jackson could have done. Greg Vaney really showed his knowledge of his players and tactics with his subs this game, and that’ll be some relief for the starters knowing that coming off won’t ruin the game. Even though Jackson was one of those on the backline when Allen got his goal, I say he did what he was supposed to do in that situation.
To Wrap It Up Like Shawarma
This is not a game to hang your head over, this was a great game by both teams. Real Salt Lake was a quality opponent and things just didn’t go Toronto’s way. The ball is round like that sometimes. Yes, it’s appaling they have the same points as the Chicago Fire right now, but they’ll get the best chance to correct that next week when they come to Toyota Park (I live in Chicago and will most certainly be at the game). Remember Toronto fans, this is a marathon, not a race. The middle of the season is where things become most important.