1. It’s never quite as bad on second viewing (seriously, take 24 hours, fire up MLS Live and mute it). In the heat of the moment the disappointment of defeat always tends to cloud the performance, but through 35 minutes or so on Saturday Toronto FC were mostly fine with one big caveat - the sloppy set-piece goal conceded that left them chasing a game on the road.
The New England Revolution closed down aggressively and pushed plenty of numbers forward in support of Kei Kamara, but while Toronto had a bit of freshness in their legs they were able to play with enough fluidity to break the press and create the better of the chances. Within six minutes, Victor Vazquez headed over at the end of a move that started in Toronto’s own box:
That was not the only good look the Reds had; there was, of course, the move which ended in Justin Morrow hitting the post and then the much more speculative but nearly spectacular Armando Cooper shot that Cody Cropper tipped on to his crossbar.
(Cooper, by the way, was nowhere near Toronto’s biggest problem on the day but will be cast as a scapegoat as the out-of-form player who came into the team for a loss.)
It started to turn about 10 minutes before half-time. On the day, I didn’t love the way the 3-5-2 was matching up against Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez cutting inside from the wings. While I still think that was a problem, though, the overall structure of the team fell apart so badly I’m now inclined to put more emphasis on fatigue:
There’s far too many players ahead of the ball when Benoit Cheyrou turns it over, but having managed to get numbers back the lethargy of Toronto’s defending speaks for itself. The Reds were extremely fortunate to get in at the break without taking further damage, with Kamara shooting wide from a good position and Kelyn Rowe seeing a good goal ruled out.
Though Toronto had been able to play through New England’s press, they couldn’t get the ball to stick up front and create any sustained pressure; all of their best attacks were of the one-and-done, quick-break variety. As a result, the back five and Cheyrou were having to go up and down a lot and never got much of a breather. Away from home, having played midweek, against a team with plenty of offensive weapons, that’s tough.
If only they had a striker who can hold the ball up and a midfield general to sweep up second balls and recycle possession.
2. Raheem Edwards had his moments, but it wasn’t altogether too surprising that he found what was essentially a free role off Sebastian Giovinco tough. Young players who make a quick and successful transition to senior football are usually helped by defined roles and responsibilities, which Edwards has had as a wing-back; it takes the thinking out of the game and ensures the player isn’t overwhelmed.
Floating across the pitch to find your own space in which to link up play is much more difficult than charging up and down the flank, and Edwards looked most comfortable when he drifted wide and could play in a way that is familiar to him. I would have liked to see him station himself on the right a little more and cut inside, as Fagundez was doing to good effect for New England on the opposite wing:
The larger blotches on the left of Edwards’ map came later in the game when he went back out to the left, so if you take those out you can see how he struggled to find an area in which he could consistently get on the ball and influence the game in the first 70 minutes or so. The circumstances of the game, of course, played their part in that.
It’s important Edwards is versatile enough to play higher up the field and not just at wing-back in the long term, but for now it’s more beneficial for team and player alike to keep the momentum of his rookie year rolling. If Toronto plan to stick with Morrow and Chris Mavinga in the starting lineup, they may be better served using Edwards as a weapon off the bench rather than trying to shoehorn him in elsewhere.
3. Despite the win on Saturday, New England are currently on track to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season:
It speaks to the strength of the field in the Eastern Conference this year on the one hand, but on the other - how?
Without wanting to read too much into one game, there’s a lot to like about Jay Heaps’ side; their TAM-funded centre-back pairing looked pretty solid, Rowe was excellent in midfield and Nguyen and Fagundez with your choice of Kamara or Juan Agudelo up front? There’s goals there. They were also without designated player Xavier Kouassi, who is starting to assert himself after an injury wrecked his 2016 season.
They remind me a bit of the Seattle Sounders in that they have their flaws but if they can remain healthy and one or two things come together at the right time, you wouldn’t want to face them in the playoffs.
There’s a long way to go, but it’s tough to imagine we won’t be seeing TFC, Chicago, New York City and Orlando in the postseason at this point. The Revs could find themselves in a decent fight for the remaining two spots, and you’ve got to be close to the panic button if you’re a New York Red Bulls fan.