Toronto FC fans waited for weeks, but the club’s home opener finally arrived and it was as beautiful a day as they could have hoped for. From the crowd, to the weather to Toronto FC’s performance, there was plenty at BMO Field to smile about.
At least if you weren’t a Real Salt Lake player, coach or fan. RSL was coming off the biggest win in club history but any thoughts of momentum carrying over disappeared during a first half dominated by the hosts. RSL enjoyed a better second half but left Canada without a single goal.
SBI Correspondents Duane Rollins and Scott McAllister took in the action and they give us their reports on the match:
A beautiful day in Toronto
By DUANE ROLLINS
Like all great days, it started in a pub. A dingy and forgotten place located in a rundown part of town. The Dufferin Gate is the type of place that would normally be populated on a Saturday morning by a couple regulars drinking their morning coffee while flirting, poorly, with a brunette waitress half their age–like the pub itself, their glory days left behind sometime around 1976.
But this day was different. Life had returned to this Parkdale watering hole. A sea of red had filled it to its breaking point. Forget the trendy clubs of Toronto’s entertainment district—located just a few miles away—on this day the Gate was the place to be.
However, there wasn’t much time. With the game scheduled for an uncivilized 12:30 p.m., the crowd had less than 45 minutes to catch-up with old friends, warm-up their vocal cords and consume enough adult beverages to last them through the 20-minute march to the stadium.
It was an action packed 45 minutes. A smoke bomb was released. Insensitive chants devised. A bewildered brunette waitress gamely dealt with the flirtations of men closer to her age, but equally as hopeless in matters of the heart.
Then, the march. Flags. Chanting. An old man wearing a Montreal Canadiens’ cap shakes his head and asks, "Who are you people," as a mob of 300 interrupts his tranquil Saturday morning.
More smoke is released, this time inside a tunnel. The noise is exhilarating, undoubtedly intimidating to those not a part of it.
For those that have followed the game in Toronto and Canada throughout their life, the sights and sounds are still unreal. It was always hoped that the city would support a MLS team. Never, however, was it imagined that it would support a team like this. No one understood the latent desire that existed. Fueled by a generation that grew up playing the sport and watching the EPL and Serie A on basic cable, TFC has done something that for years was thought to be impossible—it’s sold soccer, domestic soccer, to Torontonians.
Which explains the delirious, sloppy grins that adorn the faces of the fans that pour through BMO’s Gate 3 to fill its rowdy south end. We’ve survived the winter. Everything still looks the same. The sardonic British guy is still sitting three rows above us. The Portuguese girls to our right still aren’t talking. Hell, even the beer has stayed the same price.
But, there is one change we are hoping for, we think, as we glance out towards the pitch for the first time in 2008. Toronto was, diplomatically speaking, challenged in 2007. It’s feared that without improvement some of the off-field shine could fade away.
Within minutes of the kick-off those fears seem unfounded. TFC’s shinny new midfield is dominating possession. Amado Guevara seems motivated. Laurent Robert continues to make us wonder how he couldn’t crack Derby’s roster. In his debut, Rohan Ricketts looks like he will create havoc with his pace.
Those additions have put new life into some old faces. Holding midfielder Carl Robinson can finally concentrate on what he does best. The skipper, Jimmy Brennan, has noticeably more jump. Everything seems to be working.
The goal finally comes a half-hour in. Guevara’s skill forces the foul on top of the 18. Robert’s kick is perfectly taken, while Tyrone Marshall and Danny Dichio do some unheralded dirty work in the wall to open up the hole that Robert finds.
The noise in the stadium is incredible. And, although Salt Lake responds with a great second half effort, it’s the only marker we’ll need.
Lackluster performance leads to RSL loss
By SCOTT McALLISTER
Is the pitch at BMO Field on a slant? No disrespect to the grounds crew there in Toronto, it just appeared that Real Salt Lake couldn’t get the ball – or themselves – out of the south end for most of the first half on Saturday. Then it seemed as though they couldn’t stop from attacking the same end in the second half.
Any momentum that RSL wanted to build upon from it’s drubbing of D.C. the previous Saturday was lost in the lackluster performance in the opening half against Toronto. As mentioned above, it looked as though Salt Lake were traveling up hill as they labored toward the Toronto end. Their lethargic start resulting in chasing the match once they remembered how to play as a team.
At times, during the first half, there would be individual runs, with several RSL teammates standing around, waiting to see what the guy with the ball was going to do. But, mostly Salt Lake reverted to belting the long ball to the Toronto backline, a tactic very reminiscent of previous years.
The body language from the players during the opening half looked as though they knew that RSL was not in control of the match, and they didn’t seem to mind. In contrast, the second half looked as though RSL felt they were in complete control of the midfield. As their confidence increased space began opening up, and Salt Lake actually strung large combinations of passes together.
The possession in the middle of the park and urgency in attack during the second half was encouraging. Although, RSL showed where they are still lacking – finishing. It was nice bagging four on a team like D.C., but in retrospect I would have preferred the four goals spread over a couple of games instead of bunched all into a single win. As the RSL nation has seen in the past, the lack of consistent finishing makes for a short season that ends in October.
When the match ended over a minute earlier than the fourth official originally indicated I had to smirk at the obvious lack of luck that was on RSL’s side on the day.
As the road continues to be unkind to Real Salt Lake, next week’s matchup at D.C. United is not going to be any easier than Toronto. Added to the already hostile environment of R.F.K. Stadium is the fact that D.C. is going to be fired up, ready to make sure that everyone knows that the 4-0 loss in Salt Lake was just a fluke.