I went to the stadium today expecting very little. It was TFC’s last MLS home game of 2010 and I was there out of loyalty to the ritual that is fandom as much as to the team itself. Anyone who went down to the lake today expecting a lot is either suffering from a dangerous amount of optimism or too little brain cells. There was a fear that Columbus could be on their game and TFC would show little resistance. So it started off as an event where the few positives that appeared were carefully guarded.
This would explain why my pre-game thoughts had a weather and fashion focus. A blue sky and a soft wind made it comfortable to be on the shady side of the stadium. Everyone likes a give away with real purpose and the TFC toque always becomes a part of my winter wardrobe. I could not distract myself from the game and the quality of the team for long however.
There was a strange atmosphere in the stands prior to the game. It was another low turnout. The mixture of disgruntled regulars determined to send a message and a noted wave of tourists and first timers made for a dull tone. The south end was showing enough green clothing and green banners to make a difference. The dumb greed of MLSE deserves to be called out. I think it is a sad thing in this city that in the end the corporate juggernaut swamps the Toronto soccernistas of the south end, but nothing wrong with rattling the cage while you can. I noticed that the announcing of the TFC players on the p.a. went away from the usual style of first name only so that the crowd can reply with the second name. The boos rang out when the reminder to renew your season tickets was read out. The day’s potential for ugly kept on rising. During the anthems I had a horrible passing thought- what if the Chilean equivalent of MLSE had been in charge of the miner rescue?
The game started in this sea of tension. Things did not look good when Columbus grabbed the first goal. The TFC defender Hsacanovhj should not have conceded the corner kick and the comedy of errors continued when Columbus had their headed ball hit the cross bar, bounce out and hit keeper Conway in the back and then into the net. Disaster loomed.
Then, lo and behold, Maicon Santos found a shaft of space and sent a twisting shot past the Hesmer in the Columbus net. It was a strike of bright speed and skill. The sort of screamer that has been rarely seen from the team in red this year .
We barely had time to recover from this rare moment of offensive skill when Toronto came up with another Nicholas Lindsay was playing the left wing. He had displayed some speed down the wing, was willing to take on and beat defenders and had played in a few crosses that had potential. It just seemed there was nothing happening at the business end of these crosses. Then he sent in a beauty and Jacob Peterson anticipated and put it away. TFC had taken the lead and smiles were seen all around.
I dared to think at half time that if Toronto were to score two more the margin of victory would be enough for them to claim the Trillium Cup. Clearly nobody in the dressing room was thinking about adding to the goal total.
The second half played on in a balanced way. As long as Toronto had Maicon Santos in the play there was a threat. Yet he was running out of gas.
Throughout the game I had been noting that Stephen Lenhart of Columbus was up to no good. He was playing a chippy physical game that was getting to Attakora. It was more fun from a Toronto point of view when Ty Harden began to cover Lenhart. If Lenhart wanted to wrestle, grab and bump, Harden could handle him. Then Lenhart went too far and went in after Conway , seeking to collide with Toronto’s keeper while he was focused on catching the ball. Credit to Conway for not putting up with the garbage play. A crowd soon formed around the action and credit to the ref for seeing the original cheap shot and giving the first red to Lenhart. Then Lenhart started acting all creepy innocent, oh so shocked that anyone would red card him. Conway picked up a red for retaliating and then took the high road and saluted the crowd. Maybe it is memories of Gordie Howe creeping in. but I would have made sure I got value for my red by letting my knuckles dance on the Lenhart curls a little longer.
It was not the last moment that a keeper would be the central focus of the game however. There had been an attacking drop-off when Maicon Santos gave way to OBW. It was not that Columbus had many scoring chances, it was just that they had less to worry about and did not need to keep bodies in the back. They won a late corner and their keeper Hesmer made the long run to get involved, The ball came to him and as Dan Gargan seemed to hesitate on the challenge, Hesmer buried the ball into Toronto’s net.
Stunned. I was stunned. I was a fool to think that TFC could continue to score. Double foolish me for thinking that TFC could protect a lead and finally beat Columbus in this season of squander. It was a fitting end to MLS season games at BMO. What fun does the meaningless Champions League game on Tuesday night hold for us? See you then.