Despite a new coach and several new players, Toronto FC proved an old adage true: The more things change the more they stay the same. And that will likely mean more personnel changes in the coming days.
Based on Toronto’s 2-0 loss to the Columbus Crew on Saturday in both teams’ season opener, that’s an understatement. The loss prolonged Toronto’s winless streak against Columbus, but coach Preki was still optimistic about his team’s play.
“It’s a good step for us even though the result didn’t go for us,” Preki told MLSsoccer.com. “There’re 29 games to go. It’s a long season. We’ll discuss a couple of things in the locker room and we’ll be okay. This is a good team we played and a team that has a lot of good players. They won the Supporters’ Shield last season.”
But many of the issues that plagued Toronto last season resurfaced again in the season opener for both teams at sunny Crew Stadium. The Reds were outplayed for most of the match with Columbus controlling most of the possession in the midfield, especially in the first half.
With the departure of steadying force Carl Robinson, leadership in the midfield will rest with Canadian international Julian de Guzman. While de Guzman has been a stalwart for Canada in the middle, earning CONCACAF Gold Cup all-star honors, he and his teammates looked ordinary against a more organized Crew attack.
Columbus looked like a team that had played together a long time and it showed with its ability to hold the ball and find penetrating passes.
Toronto’s defense had trouble with Columbus’s pesky forwards, particularly Guillermo Barros Schelotto. They conceded numerous corner kicks and on a few occasions coughed up the ball in its own end.
“The first 30 minutes the game was in the middle of the field and then we got some confidence,” said Crew coach Robert Warzycha. “We created some other opportunities. We need to work on the last pass, obviously. Running on the ball and off the ball and creating chances we had plenty today. We also had 10 corner kicks and they had one.”
The pressure ultimately led to the first goal when defender Jim Brennan was called for a foul near the sideline. On the ensuing free kick, Andy Iro outjumped Brennan to head Schelotto’s hard cross just inside the left post by a helpless Stefan Frei.
Give full marks to Iro and Schelotto, who later added an insurance marker in the 87th minute to put the game out of reach.
“It was a weird game. I don’t think the result was fair at all,” said Preki. “Having to deal with a few corners and set pieces and one of them we fall asleep.
After 45 minutes, Columbus didn’t create any opportunities in the first half and we go into halftime 1-0 down. (Crew goalkeeper) Will (Hesmer) makes a couple of good saves. If he doesn’t, obviously, we win the game. He made the difference for them.”
The silver linings for Toronto were their chances in the second half and the play of striker O’Brien White, who was active and almost scored the equalizer. As promised, Preki implemented a 4-4-2 formation practiced throughout training camp with Dwayne DeRosario and White up front.
But despite their combined talents, the same song played with the midfield failing to provide proper service. Then the same refrain from last year kicked in with De Rosario trying to single-handedly lead the team back late in the game.
When Schelotto got the insurance goal in controversial fashion, the same sad song came to an end.
To be fair, it will take time for the players to adjust to new teammates and Preki’s system. But despite Preki’s optimism, what’s of great concern based on this showing, is the team’s inability to score, just like last season.
This game marked the fourth straight goalless outing going back to the three exhibition matches in the Carolina Challenge Cup.
Interestingly, Preki said in training that he’s more concerned about defense than scoring. Defense wins games, of course, but that’s based on the premise that a team would score its own share of goals.
Offense generates in the midfield and with a middle dominated by defensive midfielders, goals may be hard to come by even if the club can acquire a top class striker.