At some point this season we might be able to just talk about a good soccer game. Referee's decisions have been the focal point now in three of four matches in 2016. Oddly enough, not one of those decisions has gone Toronto's way, so it would be reasonable to expect that the calls will eventually start to flow the way of TFC.
Ismail Elfath now joins the ranks of the heel referees among the Toronto FC faithful following the Rapids 1-0 win over TFC at Dick's Sporting Goods Park last night. Elfath pulled the trigger on two quick yellow cards to Benoit Cheyrou, which reduced the visitors to ten men for well over three quarters of the game.
Shortly after the Cheyrou sending off, Elfath and his assistant ruled Rapids striker, Luis Solignac onside on a razor thin close play that allowed Solignac to score what would turn out to be the decisive goal.
Unlike the games at Yankee Stadium and in Kansas City, Toronto FC doesn't have much of case against the officials on any of the major decisions from last night.
Cheyrou earned his first yellow card by arriving late and nicking at the ankles of Eric Miller with his boot. The studs weren't up, which likely saved Cheyrou from the straight red at that point. From that moment forward, Cheyrou knew that he had to be on his best behaviour, the margin for error was gone.
With the yellow card barely back in the referee's pocket, Cheyrou was asking Mr. Elfath to make another decision. The TFC midfielder appears to lead with his elbow to the head of Colorado defender, Bobby Burling. With Burling in a heap on the pitch, Elfath never hesitated in going to his pocket again to show Cheyrou the second yellow and subsequent red.
There was no malice on the part of Cheyrou. It was a clumsy and reckless challenge by a player who needed to be more careful with the knowledge that another caution would spell disaster. He really gave the referee no choice but to send him off.
The best that Cheyrou could have hoped for would be that the referee would have exercised some discretion with the knowledge that another yellow card would be fatal and would drastically affect the remainder of the game. Had Cheyrou not already been issued the first yellow card and had gone into the book for the elbow up on Burling, no one would have complained about the call. Ultimately, it was Cheyrou's job to exercise discretion in that situation and he didn't.
The goal, was Solignac onside or not? The Rapids striker gets himself into so much space that it looks like there's no way that the assistant could possibly keep the flag down. The replay reveals that he is slightly beyond Perquis, his closest defender, but is in line with Drew Moor. Solignac timed his run perfectly, the assistant was correct to keep the flag down.
Playing at 5,200 feet above sea level, this game was always going to be tough for Toronto FC. Even with two weeks off for most players, the thin mountain air takes its toll on anyone not used to the effects of playing at altitude. Having to play a man short for seventy seven minutes and chasing the game from a goal behind for seventy minutes, this game became a mountain too tall to climb for Toronto FC.
Statistically, Colorado was far and away the better side. However, the man advantage for the Rapids does skew the statistical picture. The fact that TFC didn't get blown off the pitch is a minor miracle and a moral victory for the club. In years past, the reds would have conceded the first goal and the floodgates would have opened. Colorado had chances that they didn't convert on, but Toronto did a nice job of keeping the game within reach.
Mo Babouli getting the start ahead of Jozy Altidore will be a storyline to watch going forward. Is Jozy still struggling with fitness and rigours of travel with the U.S. men's national team or is he falling out TFC management and in danger of losing his place in the team?
Babouli didn't play poorly, but it was difficult to get a real read on what he can do because once Cheyrou was sent off, Toronto spent most of the night fending off the advances of the Rapids as opposed to mounting much of an attack of its own.
Three games in the span of eight days and playing at altitude yielded predictable results for Michael Bradley and Will Johnson. Both were not at their best physically or mentally. Bradley struggled to complete passes, particularly in the first half. There was a lack of sharpness to his game that might be chalked up to fatigue.
The energy and intensity that Johnson has brought to the TFC lineup over the first three games this season was missing last night. He didn't play poorly, but the spark was not there. Johnson can and should be forgiven for anything that was lacking in his performance last night following a gruelling World Cup qualifier at the Azteca on Tuesday night.
Four points at the halfway mark of this season opening road trip for Toronto FC puts the team on pace to meet the expectation of a minimum of eight points in the bank by the time the reds take to the pitch at BMO Field on May 7th for the home opener. That will be cold comfort for those around the TFC camp with the knowledge that they could and maybe should already be at the eight point mark.
The referees haven't helped the reds cause with calls blown at NYCFC and Sporting KC. Although some will be quick to point at the referee for the defeat last night as well, the loss in Colorado was a self-inflicted wound. Cheyrou was overly aggressive in his challenges on Miller and Burling and his dismissal forced the team to be too cautious going forward for fear of getting caught out on the counter while a man down. The Rapids are an improved side over last year and difficult to deal with at home, but last night was an opportunity lost for TFC to pick up valuable points.