For the second year in a row Toronto FC has handed a Canadian expansion team their first Major League Soccer win.
A year ago TFC lost 4-2 to the Vancouver Whitecaps to open the season and now they have fallen to the Montreal Impact.
With an army of Toronto fans making the trip to Montreal to take in the game there was a lot of optimism that the visitors would be able to pick up their first win of the campaign. History was on the side of the Reds, who had never lost a game to the Impact. The problem with that stat is that this is a new Impact team and has very few names in common with the club that competed in the NASL last year or the side that Toronto regularly beat in the Canadian Championships.
All those fans who made the trip will not have been pleased with what they saw from TFC in Saturday’s 2-1 loss. It was a whole lot of the same problems that have plagued the club throughout much of its existence. The much maligned back four was at it again with Logan Emory being sent off in the second half for bringing down Sanna Nyasssi and Ty Harden completely failing to clear the ball, and instead handing it to Andrew Wenger for the Impact’s second goal. Add in a very poor turnover by Terry Dunfiled that set up the opener from Sinisa Ubiparipovic and the defeat really came down to the club’s inability to defend.
It was not just the defensive mistakes that hurt TFC in this one though. The team showed clear signs of fatigue after all the miles they logged traveling to Mexico and back this week and it resulted in a very listless performance for the first 65 minutes.
The opening half was dominated by the Impact who were being given far too much space to work the ball around in midfield. They took advantage by controlling the tempo and consistently sending Nyassi through on the wings as his pace was giving the defence more than they could handle.
All that space was a direct result of the tactical choices that Aron Winter made with his lineup. The lack of faith in his defenders, justifiably so, meant that he again played Dunfield and Julian De Guzman in holding midfield roles that saw them playing really deep. Also, Ryan Johnson, Joao Plata, and Nick Soolsma all pushed forward into the attack so there was a massive hole in the formation.
It is clear that the lack of faith in the defenders is causing issues from front to back for the team. If you do not trust your defenders it means the midfield has to spend more time protecting team but the trade off is the midfielders have less freedom to start attacks and get involved in creating scoring chances. That leaves the attackers looking isolated and the team playing far too many long balls.
TFC seemed to be in need of some sort of spark but nothing that Winter tried was enough to get his team going. The Impact goal was not enough to wake them up, nor was Doneil Henry and Luis Silva being brought on. In the end, the spark that Reds needed came from Emory being sent off for his 65th minute tackle at the edge of the box.
After going down to 10 men TFC finally showed some life that had been lacking from their MLS campaign so far. Problem was that they left Harden alone in the middle of the defence and that proved costly on the Wenger strike.
Down 2-0, TFC continued to press forward and were rewarded with a consolation goal. The good news was that it came from the head of Danny Koevermans and was his first goal since the end of last season. The big Dutch forward showed some very promising signs in the second half of the game and was rewarded for his efforts when he came across his man to head home the cross from Reggie Lambe in the 88th minute.
Having Koevermans scoring again would be huge for a team that now has two goals in their first four MLS games. At least if the offence is producing goals it will take some of the pressure off the defenders to try and keep clean sheets.
With the team now on a four game losing run to start the campaign it is already starting to look like it could very well be another year with no playoffs, unless things turn around drastically and soon.
Duncan Fletcher is a Toronto-based writer and key contributor to Waking the Red, a blog about Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. Follow Duncan on Twitter.