There was a sense of dread going into this game. It was an odd feeling to be slathering on the sunscreen to watch a team on thin ice. Toronto's MLS playoff race prospects look dim this August and too many other contending teams have games in hand (KC and NE have three each and I'm simply afraid to look at the western teams). Toronto FC has not had an iron grip on home results this year and with only three more home games after today, it was a time of now or never. Do or die. Is you is or is you ain't my baby? Last year, we were treated to some exciting matches down to the playoff wire, the victory in New York, the heart-breaking tie in Dallas. We would find out today whether to look forward to an exciting season end ahead or face the reality of falling short.
I was also a little peeved that there was not movement on the player acquisition front. The closing of the MLS transfer window for international players yesterday means that if the TFC roster is going to be filled it will either be through trades or picking up North American players. I know it is a TFC fan weakness to always be dreaming of the foreign signing, the guy from overseas who saunters into town and puts the team on his back and points us to glory. But heck, it is both the curse and joy of modern football. If Man City fans over the pond can welcome the likes of Tevez, Toure and Adebayour today , what are we, chopped liver? I still hold out hope that a few players on trial were accepting contracts but the MLS office will not be making them official until early next week.
It was hot at game time, but the field did not look that bad considering that 8 days ago it was buried in turf and dirt for the Real Madrid visit.
Then the first surprise, Chris Cummins was willing to truly shake up his line-up. It helped that Barrett was suspended and Wynne is injured, but the youth movement was launched and the starting 11 had a new look.
The back four were Attakora, Serioux, Brennan and Gomez
The midfielders were Cronin, Robinson and Sanyang
The forwards were Vitti, White and DeRosario
Toronto started strong. The early highlight was Vitti twisting in the box and sending a cross to Brennan whose header hit the post. DC had some flurries and counter attacks, but it was TFC that was going forward regularly and with more build up than usual. There was little long ball or hit 'n' hope and more control and movement off the ball. Toronto was able to go ahead on a great cross from Sam Cronin and DeRo's ability to beat out two defenders to the ball. DeRo was active all afternoon and was the heart of the team.
Then the second surprise, Cummins was willing to put results first and player egos second. He substituted Amado Guevara for Carl Robinson to start the second half. Robinson had enjoyed a first half filled with his usual strong positional play and hard tackles, but his passing was plain awful. Robbo is at his best when he has the role of countering a strong midfield, but today DC United was underpowered. I found myself wondering if they were holding back and playing possum at some points.
At first the midfield substitution did not seem to gel, Guevara and Vitti struggled to get onto the same page. Then when it finally clicked, it clicked into a thing of beauty. Vitti played well today, no matter who was on the field with him.
Toronto's second goal came out of a Guevara corner kick. I think it was Attakora who controlled it and put the ball into White's path. One step to his right and White launched a solid shot into the net. You may complain that I go too far, but O'Brien White's goal had the calm, cool and efficient manner of a Raul scoring down that end of the field just earlier this month.
One late moment of panic as DC United had everyone scattered on a corner kick, but the ball was headed off the line by Amado Guevara.
The second half substitutions were thoughtful and well timed. The TFC back line had become more fluid in the second half and they played with three in the back most of the time. Jim Brennan was making gains down the leftside as a winger and Sam Cronin was able to play wing down the rightside and still come back to help out with defending. Ali Gerba came on for White and kept the offensive pressure constant . Brennan gave way to Gabe Gala, which shows you what scoring against Real Madrid can do for your playing time. It was Sanyang's first start and his second half was notable for being injured regularly. The second time he went down I was able to spot the impact of DC United cleats to his upper right thigh. He kept on coming back and was an energetic contributor.
Now we prepare as fans to watch three road games. I think the games all take place on Saturdays. Chivas USA, Seattle and Colorado are the locations. When we welcome TFC home in September, even a handful of points from these next three games will make all the difference. Stay tuned.