It is rare when two MLS teams play each other two in four days, but the schedule demons set that very scenario up for D.C. United and Toronto FC. D.C. was struggling badly and in need of a win while Toronto was trying hard to maintain a torrid recent run of success.
Toronto looked like it might get the sweep last week, and potentially threaten D.C. coach Tom Soehn’s job security in the process, but D.C. woke up on Saturday and reminded us that all that talent on United’s roster just might be able to put things together.
SBI correspondents Joel Sanderson and Duane Rollins took in both matches and shared their take on the two-game series with us:
Win was nice, but problems persist for D.C.
By JOEL SANDERSON
I declare myself pessimist for the moment.
- A 1-0 away loss to a mid level team where the winning goal was early and sloppy on a sloppy field.
- A 3-2 home victory over the same team where both teams took their chances and DC strung it together a little better and got a little better luck.
For the first game, think of an all-star game. Guys running around, all talented, but lacking in understanding of what the heck the guy next to him is going to do next. The games are often fun to watch, but it’s sloppy fun. DC United looks like that. Except their talent makes me expect them all to be covered in acne.
Second game, there were still the mindless giveaways 25 yards from the Toronto’s goal, but the ball was getting there. Consistently. For the first time in five or six games, the assumption finally moved from “if” DC would score to “when.” That’s a huge evolution in quality of play offensively.
Overall, the effort was drastically better in these two games than the previous four. It was like the difference between watching Terrell Owens and watching Marvin Harrison. DC looked competitive in both games.
In game one, I did enjoy watching Zach Wells play toy soldier as the ball slotted slowly past him then take half a second to decide, “You know, I might be able to catch that.” Yeah, if he’d started running and hour ago.
Over and over, if players were running, there would be more success.
There were moments when I thought I saw a glimmer of hope in that game, though I dashed them immediately, afraid to get my heartbroken like a Hugh Grant movie. I actually thought I saw the whole team playing hard at one point. I was astounded. The whole team! Emilio! Namoff! Moreno! Simms! All running at full speed ahead!
And then, Saturday, they were running. More than once. In fact, there were times that couldn’t even be quantified as “moments” where the team was playing hard. They were beyond “minutes.” I’d venture so far as to call them “periods” of strong play.
Can I credit all of the improved play to Fred? If I can’t, I may just try.
In both games, he really added spark to the attack. Having Fred, Gallardo and Quaranta on the field together made for a midfield that was actually better than Toronto’s, with apologies to Maurice Edu.
Fred has turned into a real catalyst for this offense. In both games, he pushed the ball. DC possessed the ball in the deep third. It was so exciting!
Add that a couple of guys have learned from Gallardo that taking shots from distance can lead to good things. Who knew?!
I’m a pessimist because the problems obviously aren’t solved. Toronto had good chances in the second game. The defense looked a tad vulnerable. Oh, and I like to be understated.
The story of these two games was the effort and the offense.
If DC played like this every game, I wouldn’t expect them to do much the rest of the season. Maybe they would make the playoffs as the last or second to last team. (If you didn’t get the news, the top THREE teams from each conference qualify and there are just two wild cards this year) So I’m not ready to tell anybody that problems have been solved and DC is ready to make its run. The 1-0 was step one, the 3-2 win was step two. There are at least two more similarly-sized steps left before this team can compete with the Chicagos and Columbuses of the world.
So I guess I’m not entirely pessimistic. There’s hope.
A busy week for TFC fans
By DUANE ROLLINS
TFC fans were nervous in the lead-up to the odd, Wednesday night game. And with many at the pub replacing their Chelsea blue with TFC red in the moments following the Champions League final, there was a distinctive air of impending fatality—if John Terry could slip, so could Danny Dichio.
Weekday games are different in Toronto. Despite their beer-swilling reputation, most TFC fans do work for a living. The pre-game festivities are smaller, populated by the truly dedicated and occasionally obsessive. There is less singing and more serious thinking. And with that, some truly serious worrying.
"Robert has kind of disappeared, don’t you think?"
"Did you hear that we are going to lose Guevara for four games?"
"Maybe we should sit Dichio. He seems to have lost a step."
The weather isn’t helping. It’s cold. And, not your regular maybe-I-should-wear-a-sweater cold, but a bone-chilling, feels-more-like-March cold. Canadian sports fans have a tendency to assume the worse about things. Ironically, that feeling increases with the success of their sporting heroes. A sort of Ben Johnson-syndrome makes Canucks fear the worse—we just know that the world will come crumbing down the minute we rise to the top.
So, a five game undefeated streak by TFC, coupled with a struggling opponent, means that there are more than a few concerned faces as we walk to the stadium.
With a hip-hop concert, Blue Jays game and minor hockey playoff game all taking part within three miles of BMO Field, the traffic is impossible. Even with a 7:30 p.m. start, the crowd is late arriving. The eerie site of a half-full stadium at kick-off is distracting. It seems like one more sign that things might not go right on the evening. But then, just seven minutes in, a bizarre back pass by DC’s Devon McTavish gives Dichio a one-on-one opportunity with ‘keeper Zach Wells. McTavish decides to ride Dichio like a pony. Wells awkwardly charges. The crowd screams for the penalty, but somehow Dichio has managed to poke the ball towards the goal. Stunningly, it trickles in, the crowd is singing and Dichio is holding the corner flag aloft like a conquering king, which is what he has become in Toronto.
The rest of the game goes to the crowd’s pre-game expectations. It’s likely the worse TFC has looked at home all year. But, with a packed mid-field and another world class save from Greg Sutton—off a point blank shot by Fred—the Reds hold on. The world hadn’t collapsed. TFC was still undefeated at home. It even seemed a bit warmer outside.
As it turned out, the collapse would come three days later, about three-quarters through a truly ugly game in DC. No rational observer of the game could argue that TFC deserved anything from the return match-up, but still the 3-2 loss stung. Even two goals from thew suddenly red-hot Dichio couldn’t help Toronto hold onto a second half lead and three more points were gone.
Still, with 14 points the Reds remain ahead of schedule. And, although it’s against a TFC fans’ nature to admit it, there is real hope in Toronto.