Whatever Toronto FC expected heading into Saturday’s game against the Colorado Rapids, it probably wasn’t a dull home draw. The Reds remain undefeated at BMO Field this season and have built a two-point lead over the Chicago Fire for now, but it’s impossible not to be disappointed.
Thus comes a trap result that may have been coming for a while. On several occasions this season, TFC have gotten away with finding their insurance goal in the latest stages of the game. Against both the New England Revolution and D.C. United, the Reds managed to hang on to a 1-0 lead beyond the 80th minute.
TFC actually lead MLS in goals within the last 15 minutes, with 11 in total. This time, though, failing to put their opponent away early was TFC’s downfall. Moments like Jay Chapman’s miss just after half-time stand out in that regard (as does Chapman’s valid penalty shout a little later).
The way Colorado finished the match on Saturday highlights why it’s important to find a second goal quickly. While the time-wasting tactics were frustrating and fairly cheap, they worked for them. That’s something TFC will have to contend with more frequently if they can’t kill the game earlier.
It’ll continue to draw the ire of BMO Field fans, but that kind of thing is part and parcel of being the top team in the league. While Colorado have the league’s worst road record, they are far from the only side to have a poor one and other opponents will do all they can to steal points in TFC’s house.
“I think [Colorado is] a team that specializes in grinding out results,” said acting coach Robin Fraser - very diplomatically - about how the game ended. In fairness, it is partly how the Rapids became Western Conference finalists last year.
Overall, it was just an off night for TFC. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Justin Morrow all could have helped had they been available. Benoit Cheyrou’s injury in the first half hurt, too, forcing the Reds to change their formation without a proper holding midfielder.
Fraser didn’t have much chance to change the game with tactical substitutions, either, after being forced to swap out both Cheyrou and Chapman due to injury. Sebastian Giovinco had a very quiet night, and aside from his role in the opening goal was almost invisible for most of the first half. He was better when Ricketts came on to support him, but TFC really needed more.
“I think any time you have to make two of three subs due to injury, you feel a little bit handcuffed,” Fraser said. “Certainly, you feel like maybe you would have done something differently if you’d actually had the luxury, but this is the way the game goes.”
Out on the flank, Tsubasa Endoh continued to struggle in the wing-back position. Armando Cooper had a couple of good moments, but also some very bad ones.
Cooper’s turnover ultimately led to Colorado’s equalizer, but it wasn't the only sloppy pass that hurt the Reds. Despite the fact that 84% of their passes hit the intended target, it seemed like TFC continually gave the ball away, especially while trying to build attacks.
“I think we turned the ball over in some tough spots, and lost some momentum early on because of it,” added Fraser. “At the end of the day we probably weren’t as quick on the ball as we needed to be.”
Whether it was laziness or miscommunication, TFC’s link-up play was below par for most of the game. For once, fatigue looked to have caught up with them. It wasn’t just the errant passing - first touches were bad, the pace was slow, and nobody looked particularly dangerous.
In past victories against Minnesota United, Columbus, and Montreal, TFC have turned on the gas in the last few minutes to find a winning goal. On all three occasions, they were extremely aggressive in attack and seemed to find another level of play when their opponent could not. This time, that kind of energy was just not there.
Maybe it’s because Colorado never let them string more than 30 seconds of play together, but TFC’s attempted late surge just wasn’t as good as we know it can be.
It was bound to happen eventually; every good team has trap games. This is something Toronto should learn from moving forward. Next time they score early, they’ll need to keep the pressure on and put their opponent to rest while they still can.