Remember when Toronto FC fans would go crazy if their team could muster a draw, even at home? Remember when going to BMO Field and getting anything but a win was a disappointment for a visiting team?
Those times have changed and it was never more clear than last Thursday, when a disciplined and organized Red Bulls squad halted Toronto FC’s three-match winning streak and became the first team to take a point (or even score a goal) at BMO Field this season. Toronto fans came away disappointed, which is saying something considering their team is now unbeaten in four matches.
SBI Correspondents Duane Rollins and Andrew Keh watched the match and provide their views on last Thursday’s result:
Tie isn’t good enough for Toronto
By DUANE ROLLINS
It’s funny how quickly things can change in a few weeks. Especially in the wacky, lovable world that is MLS.
Look back to a cold and miserable day in Central Ohio a month and a bit ago. There, the Columbus Crew took on Toronto FC and 2,500 well lubricated Canadians in the 2008 season opener. Collin Samuel and Tyler Hemming started for the visitors, as did rookie ‘keeper Brian Edwards. The Reds created, well, nothing through the middle of the park and were impotent on the attack. And, that was the strongest part of their play.
The back line was…Atrocious? Horrendous? Laughable?…it’s hard to come up with the right adjective. Regardless, it was bad–really, really bad.
Still, the throng of 2,500 left the game with illogical hope. Somehow a flash of potential was found. It was difficult to articulate why the TFC fans were OK with the result—diminished expectations from a tough expansion year perhaps?—but, yet, they were.
Now, let’s flash forward to last Thursday and another cold and miserable day, this time in Southern Ontario. Instead of Columbus, it’s the New York Red Bulls on the pitch to take on Toronto FC. Tyler Hemming is at his parents’ home in London, Ont. Collin Samuel is back in Trinidad and Tobago and Brian Edwards’ butt is firmly attached to the TFC bench.
On this night, the TFC fans have every reason to be hopeful. Toronto is riding a three game wining streak and is smack-dab in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The strength of the team is a revamped midfield, which is arguably the best in MLS. Goals are still hard to come by, but, led by Lauren Robert and Amado Guevara, TFC has become dangerous on the set pieces.
The back line still causes worry, but it has pitched back-to-back clean sheets, with early Comeback Player of the Year candidate Greg Sutton rock solid in the net.
The game itself has a playoff feel—rough, direct, ugly and passionate. The crowd is in full voice and, obviously, well lubricated.
When early season whipping boy Marco Velez finished off a quick delivery (off a set piece, what else) from Robert everything was going as planned.
Then the bottom fell out. OK, not really, but it sort of felt that way. After Dave van den Bergh wrapped a ball around the Toronto wall and into the corner of the net TFC’s brief, three-week stint on top of the world came to an end. Suddenly the prospect of dropping two important points at home seemed all too real.
Indeed, the combination of some truly horrendous weather and some God-awful negative tactics from both sides made the rest of the 1-1 draw anticlimactic.
The last time TFC drew at home—last year’s season capper–it touched off a pitch invasion from the Toronto faithful. Last week, the reaction was a tad bit more subdued. A year ago—a month ago even—the TFC fan would have said that their heroes had just gained a point. On this day, they believed that they lost two.
Things have indeed changed quickly in Toronto. And, the TFC fan wouldn’t have it any other way.
Draw a good result for the Red Bulls
By ANDREW KEH
Time will tell us for sure what to make of a 1-1 draw in Toronto.
We all agree that the atmosphere up there is hostile for opposing teams—this point has been beaten to death. But until Toronto FC’s surprising start to this still young season, there was a clear disconnect between the play on the field and the fervor in the stands, which made anything less than three points an unsatisfying return for a visiting club.
For now at least, all signs seems to suggest that Toronto will indeed be a tough place to play this season and that it will have as much to do with the squad as the club’s much-lauded fans. For the Red Bulls, then, a 1-1 draw with many positives aspects attached is no disappointing result.
Interestingly enough, the storylines that dominated the build-up to this match did not quite pan out. The frightening combination of Juan Pablo Angel and Jozy Altidore that was supposed to spearhead the Red Bull attack was spoiled by the latter’s relegation to the wing. In my eyes, Altidore has never really looked comfortable playing as far from goal as he did on Thursday (as well as in a few games last season), and there seemed to be a purpose lacking in some of his movements. The times that he has looked dangerous on the outside have come when he is cutting in from the left wing, and last week, until late in the second half, he worked out on the right.
But as is becoming increasingly clear this season, Juan Carlos Osorio is a man of tactical vision, and each successive game in which the Red Bulls play in a stingy, organized fashion to earn a positive result makes it harder to doubt the man. Then again, I knew a year of Bruce Arena would make any half-thoughtful successor look like Alex Ferguson.
Toronto’s goal, then, clearly came against the run of play, and I doubt anyone but the players could tell you what really happened out there. Jon Conway was still lining up the wall when the cross came in, and almost none of the Red Bull players, most importantly Juan Pablo Angel, who seemed to have been assigned to Marco Velez, reacted to the ball. So one has to speculate that there was an early or inaudible whistle from the referee.
Dave van den Bergh, who was looking majestic with a long, tail of ribbon flowing behind his galloping body for a good part of the 19th minute, equalized with his second goal of the season, celebrating with a stiff-legged swing of the leg that would not have looked out of place in a Radio City kick line. And another strong showing from the backline, led by the ever-steady Jeff Parke, and the indispensable Seth Stammler, contained the attacking play of Amado Guevara, Danny Dichio, Rohan Ricketts and Laurent Robert that was supposed to cause so many problems for New York.
An area for concern, clearly, is the injury that forced Claudio Reyna out of the match at halftime. The Red Bulls, with Reyna and Mike Magee marshalling the center of the field in the first half, possessed the ball for long stretches of time with a confidence that was palpable. In the second half, without Reyna as the go-to outlet for the ball, the team seemed to lose some of their identity. I assume that this was also due to their changing objective for the game. But the aging captain’s constant injury worries are troubling nonetheless, especially this early in the season.
I’ve never questioned Reyna’s contribution on the field. But the truth it, I’m becoming more and more worried about his ability to be on the field at all.