TORONTO – What to make of Toronto FC’s latest outing?
No doubt TFC can take comfort in the fact it neutralized Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls’ high-powered offence in a 0-0 draw on a gloriously sunny Saturday evening before 19, 444 spectators at BMO Field.
The flip side, of course, is that TFC is mired in a goal drought that has now reached 319 consecutive minutes, with the team failing to score in three straight matches and five of its last six. In total, Toronto has been blanked nine times this season, and sports the second-worst offensive record in Major League Soccer with 17 goals in 20 matches.
Little wonder, then, Toronto, with a 2-10-8 record, is now winless in six straight matches (with three losses) and is a distant 15 points behind fifth-place Houston for the final post-season spot in the Eastern Conference.
What’s more, the Reds haven’t won a home league game at BMO Field since a 2-1 victory over Colorado on July 18, 2012, a stretch of 16 consecutive matches. Toronto is 0-3-5 at home since beating Sporting Kansas City on March 9 at Rogers Centre.
With no promise of better days ahead and the team poised to miss the playoffs for a seventh straight year, TFC has to figure out a way to start scoring goals and picking up wins at home – and fast. Otherwise they run the serious risk of further alienating what is already a bitter and disenfranchised fan base.
Coach Ryan Nelsen chose to see the glass as half full, stating he was extremely proud of his players, who he felt pressured New York throughout the second half.
“There was only really one team in it, especially in the second half when it was a dominating performance,” Nelsen told reporters after the game.
Worryingly, he didn’t seem too bothered about his side’s lack of offensive production, conveniently overlooking the fact Toronto didn’t produce a shot on net until early in the second half.
“I’d be really concerned if we weren’t in the positions to score goals. I thought we were today,” Nelsen opined. “It was just that final ball and that wee bit of quality that was lacking.”
TFC on Saturday was missing Robert Earnshaw, the team’s top scorer with six goals this season, due to a hamstring injury. Fellow forward Danny Koevermans remained sidelined with a calf tear. Central defender Doniel Henry returned to the starting lineup after serving a one-game suspension.
With Earnshaw out, Nelsen was forced to start Jeremy Brockie and Justin Braun up front. The Reds showed plenty of attacking intent going forward, but continually ran out of ideas in the final third, as the quality of the final ball played into the box and shot on goal were sorely lacking. Luis Robles had very little to do in New York’s net.
Brockie and Braun couldn’t be faulted too much. They were hardly provided quality service. TFC’s midfield needlessly turned over the ball and was bereft of creativity, unable to influence the proceedings with a spark of inspiration.
They only scoring chance of an uneventful opening half fell to New York in the fourth minute. A sweeping move down the left side orchestrated by Fabian Espindola and Kosuke Kimura ended with TFC goalkeeper Joe Bendik stopping Thierry Henry’s shot from eight yards out.
Nelsen bemoaned what he felt was a blown call by the referee on New York defender Markus Holgersson’s challenge on Brockie inside the box midway through the first half.
“These decisions are game changers, aren’t they? He stood on the guy’s foot. It was so blatant. The whole crowd saw it,” Nelsen claimed.
He later quipped: “Are we cursed (by) the referees that come here? They just refuse to give us penalties. There must be something going on.”
Brockie agreed with his coach’s assessment of Holgersson’s alleged foul.
“(It was a) stone cold penalty,” Brockie offered. “I asked the ref about it and he said that (Holgersson) clipped my ankle but there was no intent, whatever that means.”
Toronto’s Matias Laba conjured a lovely bit of magic soon after the re-start. The Argentine displayed some fantastic foot work in tight quarters in undressing three New York players before unleashing Jonathon Osorio inside the box. But the rookie midfielder took one too many touches, and was closed down before he could get a shot off.
In the 74th minute, right back Richard Eckersley made a rampaging run down the flank and unleashed a corkscrew shot that caught Robles off-guard before he smacked it away.
The home side continued to press for the winner, but their attempts were in vain, as New York never looked uncomfortable or likely to concede against a TFC attack that was limp all game.
Laba made a crucial defensive tackle inside Toronto’s 18-yard box deep into injury time that allowed the Reds to earn a point.
NOTES: Toronto FC returns to action next Saturday when it hosts the Columbus Crew… TFC and the Red Bulls will meet one more time this season on Sept. 14 in New York… The Red Bulls lead the all-time series against Toronto, with nine wins and four draws in 17 meetings…