Toronto FC remain three victories away from their first ever Major League Soccer playoff spot, but in a losing effort tonight that they proved how much better they have become away from home.
Without six starters, and a few often used substitutes, Toronto FC came within eleven minutes of stealing an unlikely point from last year's supporter's shield winning Seattle Sounders. In the end a late Clint Dempsey goal gave the Sounders a 2-1 win.
After Obafemi Martins opened the scoring just five minutes into the match it appeared Toronto were going to be in for an ugly loss. However, they quickly collected themselves, and proceeded to spend the following 85 minutes proving why they are more than just a few flashy designated players.
It's not like the missing players didn't hurt, their absences were painfully obvious at times. Without Collen Warner and Benoit Cheyrou, the central midfield duo of Jonathan Osorio and Michael Bradley did not provide enough defensive shielding for the backline.
Without Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore Toronto lacked the creativity they need in the final third, although their attack was far from out of ideas without their two leading goalscorers.
Robbie Findley is looking increasingly in form each week and was dangerous throughout this match, giving Toronto a strong option on the wings. Luke Moore and Hercules Gomez grew into the match, and by the second half were both creating chances.
Ashtone Morgan also struggled early to find his footing in the midfield, where he was playing after Greg Vanney elected to play three at the back. However, by the end he was delivering several dangerous crosses into the box, one of which found the head of Eriq Zavaleta for his first ever professional goal.
In Toronto's lone goal of the match there was some conciliation, even if it didn't earn them a point. It was a culmination of a solid second half effort where Toronto proved they were unwilling to roll over and die, as they have been known to do in the past, especially on the road.
Having a player like Michael Bradley makes all the difference in this regard, as he truly was "the general" during this match. Toronto's captain insured Toronto controlled the midfield for large stages of the second half, which was crucial to climbing back into the game.
The one major black mark on Toronto's game, and why they ultimately lost, was that their defense wasn't good enough in transition. That is where a player like Warner or especially Cheyrou was strongly missed.
Both Seattle goals, and especially Dempsey's winner, resulted from the Sounders counterattacking, as they were able to catch Toronto midfielders pressing too high and thus exploit holes in the visiting team's ambitious three-man backline.
When Toronto were able to take shape defensively, however, they were incredibly difficult to break down for the Sounders as they pressed high and forced Seattle to break them down. Their discipline and structure was evident, and refreshing, throughout.
For this Greg Vanney deserves credit, even if the tactics he deployed seemed questionable prior to the match. Having three attackers spread out the Seattle backline, and gave Bradley and Osorio plenty of room in the midfield to distribute attacks.
While they did play three at the back, Morgan and Delgado did a good job of getting up and down the wings so that minus the odd Seattle counter attack Toronto had a very strong five at the back setup.
Behind them Chris Konopka is starting to look like the clear cut starter over Joe Bendik, and made several magnificent saves to keep the match close.
Toronto now have to wait until the final game of the season, against the Montreal Impact, to play on the road again as they have six straight games at home coming up.
With this road game came a culmination of Toronto's work away from home this season. Even if the results haven't always come, Toronto is becoming far from an easy team to play regardless of the venue and who is in the team sheet.