TFC loses to Spurs in a meaningful friendly

Toronto FC's Jermain Defoe, left. (CP Photo/Darren Calabrese)

Here’s what happened in the international friendly between Toronto FC and Tottenham on Wednesday night at BMO Field, in case you missed it.

Game summary in a sentence

TFC battled back from a two-goal deficit but then gave up a strike in the 86th minute to Andros Townsend as Spurs earned a 3-2 win in a game that was low on entertainment value but high on player substitutions—the teams combined for 17 changes at halftime.

• Read the full match report || Jermain Defoe’s post-match comments
More: Toronto FC acquires Creavalle from Houston || Spurs hold special place in Defoe’s heart

Main thoughts on the match

Defoe draws a blank: The overriding narrative ahead of this game centred on Jermain Defoe—who spent 10 years over two stints at Spurs before coming to MLS—and whether the TFC forward could put one over on his old teammates.

It didn’t pan out that way. Toronto’s season leading scorer was subbed out at the start of the second half after he had what can be charitably described as a quiet opening 45 minutes. Spurs dominated the opening half, enjoying 67 percent possession and managed to put together several lengthy passing sequences that forced the Reds to chase.

Defoe tried to link up with Gilberto and Dominic Oduro, but it never led to anything that put Tottenham’s defence under the slightest pressure. TFC didn’t record a single shot in the first half, and Defoe was kept in check by Spurs defender Younes Kaboul whenever he got sight of the 18-yard box.

TFC’s ‘B team’ gets minutes: The result was meaningless. This wasn’t about who won and lost. For Spurs, this game was part of its preparations for the upcoming Premier League season, which kicks off on Aug. 16. For TFC, it was a chance for coach Ryan Nelsen to give playing time to some of his fringe players.

Among those who took the pitch for the Reds were goalkeeper Chris Konopka (his first game of 2014), defender Ashtone Morgan (who’s lone MLS appearance came in the first game of the season on March 15), and forward Andrew Wiedeman, midfielder Jeremy Hall and forward Dwayne De Rosario.

Defender Ryan Richter, goalkeeper Quillan Roberts and forward Jordan Hamilton—all recalled from their loans at the Wilmington Hammerheads and Ottawa Fury—also saw action.

Wiedeman and Hamilton came on at the start of the second half and revitalized a limp TFC attack. Wiedeman pulled the Reds within a goal in the 64th minute, beating Spurs ‘keeper Brad Friedel with a composed finish. Nine minutes later Wiedeman was at it again, this time as a playmaker, as he brilliantly set up Hamilton’s equalizer.

Nelsen protects Bradley: With the Reds scheduled to play a tough MLS home game on Saturday, Nelsen was wise to give Michael Bradley the night off. At 26 years old, Bradley could have played 60 minutes and easily recuperated in time for Saturday’s game. But why risk him if you don’t have to?

Nelsen was also smart to give the night off to goalkeeper Joe Bendik and left back Justin Morrow, and forward Luke Moore, three key starters at critical positions where the Reds don’t have a lot of cover. Nelsen confirmed after the match the team suffered no injuries as a result of this match.

Was it worth it?: Such exhibition games are the price of doing business—in TFC’s case, it was part of the economic partnership it forged with Spurs when it signed Defoe. Let’s be honest, though—in terms of entertainment value, this was a poor spectacle, a spirited second half featuring three goals unable to make up for a dire opening 45 minutes.

There is a large and vocal segment of the TFC fan base that passionately despises these mid-season friendlies. You could hardly blame them for feeling that way based on what we saw on the pitch Wednesday night.

But to categorically declare these games as a waste of time is unfair. Go ask guys such as Morgan, Konopka, Roberts and Hall if this was meaningless. With playing time this season incredibly scarce, that quartet benefited—even in a small way—from competing against Spurs.

Go ask Hamilton—a teenaged prospect who once trialed at Tottenham before signing with TFC—if this match had no meaning. Go ask Wiedeman, who doesn’t even dress for most MLS games, if he’d rather have done something else on this night.

No points were at stake, and the result didn’t count in the standings. But that doesn’t mean the match didn’t have any meaning. It mattered to a lot of TFC’s players. That’s why it had meaning.

There were other benefits for TFC. Right back Bradley Orr was able to get some more time at centre back, a position he will have to deputize at for the near future with captain Steven Caldwell out injured. Doneil Henry is enjoying an impressive, developmental campaign—and every game he can get, even a friendly, counts.

He said it

“Guys like Jordan Hamilton, Daniel Lovitz and Ashtone Morgan—they get experience (playing teams like Spurs). I know it’s clichéd to say you get to rub shoulder with world-class players but it does give you a (boost). ... It did to me when I played (in friendlies) with D.C. United,” Ryan Nelsen on whether or not mid-season friendlies have any value.

3 stars

1) Erik Lamela: The young Argentine scored two goals and was the best player on the pitch by a wide distance.
2) Andrew Wiedeman: Scored one goal and set up Jordan Hamilton’s equalizer with a great one-touch pass.
3) Jordan Hamilton: The young forward was a bright spot for the Reds, troubling Spurs’ back line with his positive and confident play.

Stat of the night

Andrew Wiedeman’s previous goal for TFC came in a 1-1 draw versus the New England Revolution on Aug. 30, 2013.

Previous friendlies

TFC is winless in 10 mid-season friendlies against European and South American teams (with eight losses) dating back to its first year in MLS in 2007. Previous opponents include Portugal’s Benfica; Pachuca of Mexico, Independiente and River Plate of Argentina; Spain’s Real Madrid; English outfits Bolton, Aston Villa Liverpool; and Italy’s AS Roma.

News and notes

Earlier on Wednesday, Toronto traded the top spot in the league’s allocation order to the Houston Dynamo in exchange for midfielder Warren Creavalle. The Dynamo then used the allocation spot to sign U.S. international fullback DaMarcus Beasley to a designated player contract. TFC also sent allocation money to Houston as part of the deal...

Tweet of the night

What’s next?

Toronto returns to MLS action on Saturday when it hosts league champions Sporting Kansas City. TFC will be without Jermain Defoe, and defenders Steven Caldwell (quad tear) and Mark Bloom (MCL strain). Brazilian winger Jackson (Achilles) is doubtful... Spurs wrap up their North American tour on Saturday versus the Chicago Fire. Tottenham drew the Seattle Sounders in its tour opener last weekend.

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