By KURTIS W. LARSON
A defensive experiment including a questionable lineup and tactics by Toronto FC doomed the visitors to defeat as an undermanned Real Salt lake cruised to a controlling 2-1 win on a blustery night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Heading into the match, TFC was shown a glimpse of hope when the creative Javier Morales and dangerous Fabian Espindola were ruled out for RSL. However, Toronto deployed a starting 11 that didn't include the likes of Dwayne De Rosario, O'Brian White or designated player Julian De Guzman.
The win brings RSL out of the cellar and just a win out of second place in the West. With expansion side Philadelphia visiting RSL's altitude next week, RSL could find itself within striking distance of the Los Angeles Galaxy following a good display next Saturday against the Union.
Real Salt Lake's ability to apply continuous pressure, its willingness to attack and contain Toronto's long ball attack shows a slow start shouldn't rule the champions out of a top-three place in the Western Conference. With Javier Morales most likely returning from a battle with strep throat over the weekend, a three-week homestead that will end with Houston May 13 may see RSL just a game back of the Galaxy.
Fans will question TFC's decision to rest its three most productive players following a Canadian Championship match against Montreal on Wednesday night. RSL seemingly owned possession for much of the first half and the loan scoring threat for TFC was Chad Barrett playing a target forward in a 4-5-1 defensive system.
Following TFC's only chance early in the first half, RSL continued to control play winning a number of corners and looking dangerous up top. RSL's combination of Robbie Findley and Alvaro Saborio were constant threats and 32-year-old Andy Williams played his best match of the year.
In the 42nd minute, it was Williams who doubled RSL's lead to 2-1 with a goal-of-the-week candidate from corner of the box. After receiving a pass, Williams faked to his left before cutting to his right and unleashing a rocket that beat TFC's Stefan Frei to the near post to make it 2-0 heading into the break.
RSL is unbeaten in 13-straight at home dating back to last season while TFC will have the difficult task of hosting the Fire Saturday. Three massive points are on the line at BMO as TFC trails Chicago by just two points in the Eastern Conference. With early-season playoff positioning at stake, TFC needs to secure its points at home if their road woes will continue into the rest of 2010. Toronto haven't won on the road in 11 games dating back to last year meaning TFC can't afford to drop points at home.
Preki's decision to not start De Rosario, De Guzman and O'Brian White at the half will without a doubt be questioned, but the immediate impact the changes had on the game gives the Toronto faithful a glimmer of hope that the Reds are still a strong side when playing their best 11. Toronto's big three should be well rested after only playing 45 minutes in the second half.
A win at home next week would help ease some of the disappointment from Toronto's most recent loss. A loss to the Chicago Fire and it will look like much of what we've seen over the last three years in Toronto. Real Salt Lake finds itself in great position with an almost unblemished home record. A mix of mid-week and weekend games will go a long way in telling us where RSL and Toronto fit in early-season playoff positioning in their respective conferences.
What did you think of the RSL-Toronto FC match? Still upset about Preki's lineup decisions, or do you understand why he sat his top players? Think RSL is ready to move up the standings?
Share your thoughts below.