TORONTO — The Reds vs. the Reds — it had “tie game” written all over it, didn’t it?
Despite the absence of many star players, Toronto FC and Liverpool played to a 1-1 draw in a spirited international friendly Saturday afternoon before 33,087 fans at Rogers Centre.
New arrival Quincy Amarikwa’s goal for TFC early in the second half was cancelled out shortly after by Liverpool’s Adam Morgan, as Toronto (known as the Reds in Major League Soccer circles) and the Premiership giants (whose nickname is also the Reds) battled to a stalemate.
It was quite a day for Amarikwa. In the morning, he officially joined TFC via a trade with the New York Red Bulls. In the evening, he scored in his Toronto debut against one of the biggest soccer clubs in the world.
“As a forward you’re always envisioning yourself scoring a goal every game,” Amarikwa said. “I was just happy to go out and execute that today.”
While this meaningless friendly served as an important part of Liverpool’s preparation for the upcoming Premiership season, it could not have come at a worse time for TFC. Saturday marked the MLS club’s eighth game in 25 days, a gruelling schedule for a side dealing with a rash of injuries and serious depth issues.
Toronto coach Paul Mariner fielded the same starting line-up as Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids, except for Bermudan goalkeeper Freddy Hall, currently on trial with TFC, deputizing for Milos Kocic.
Mariner made wholesale changes at halftime, allowing Quillan Roberts, Toronto’s 17-year-old backup goalkeeper, to make his club debut. A slew of players who have seen little actions this season (including Matt Stinson, Ty Harden, Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams) and several youth academy products also came on to start the second half.
“I assumed that most of their starters were playing in the first half, and I thought that obviously guys with the experience of [Tortsen] Frings were very good but it was perfect for us. This was a perfect game at our stage of the season,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said.
“[Toronto] are physically strong, they compete well, Paul’s obviously done an excellent job in the short time that he’s been in here so it was always going to be a good game and I thought they played very well.”
Tyler Pasher came on a substitute in the 28th minute and impressed Mariner so much that the TFC coach gave the youth academy defender the captain’s armband for the second half.
Although nothing was on the line for TFC, Mariner felt this was useful experience for his team.
“It’s lets all of the players, the senior players and the academy players, realize that they’re not that far away from competing with some very good players. It’s a wonderful educational experience for everybody concerned,” Mariner stated.
Liverpool was missing several top stars who competed at Euro 2012 due to FIFA regulations surrounding mandatory vacation dates after international tournaments. Among those who didn’t make the trip to Toronto were Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, Andy Carroll, Glen Johnson, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing. Luis Suarez and Craig Bellamy, away on Olympic duty, were also missing for the Premiership club.
As a result, Liverpool’s lineup included a number of youngsters and youth academy players, alongside established stars Jamie Carragher, Jose Enrique and Charlie Adam. Martin Skrtel and Joe Cole came on at halftime.
Liverpool fans made up the majority in attendance, so it hardly came as a surprise this affair had the feel of a home match for the English visitors. Indeed, supporters were in very good voice when they sung along to the Liverpool anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” played over the public address system prior to kickoff.
“You travel this far away from Liverpool and I’ve got to say it was like being at home and a big applause for the supporters, who’ve really turned out in their numbers,” Rodgers stated.
“The support that I’ve sensed since we’ve been over here has been phenomenal and on record I’d like to say a massive thank you to them, because that’s why we do it. We do it for the badge and the pride and the club, but a big part of that is the supporters, so it was fantastic to see so many there and we really appreciate them turning up in that number.”
Liverpool buzzed around TFC’s penalty area without ever really testing Hall. In fact, the only quality scoring chance of the first half fell to Toronto in the seventh minute. Frings played a great ball into the box that Luis Silva deftly headed back to Johnson, who unleashed a sharp shot that forced goalkeeper Bradley Jones to tip around the far post.
Newcomers Amarikwa and Andrew Wiedeman led the attack in the second half, coming on in place of Silva and Johnson. The introduction of Amarikwa paid off as he scored in the 58th minute. Youth academy forward Sergio Camargo went on a rampaging run down the middle and unleashed a fierce attempt that the Liverpool goalkeeper stopped. But the shot was too powerful to control, and the rebound fell to a streaking Amarikwa who scored into an empty net.
“As a forward it’s always ‘get in the box, get in the box.’ I saw the ball come up and I figured I’d make my initial run (and if the ball) doesn’t come to me I’ll be there to collect (the rebound),” Amarikwa said in describing the goal.
Toronto’s lead lasted 11 minutes, as Liverpool took advantage of some sloppy defending in the box, and Morgan converted a tap-in off a shot from Raheem Sterling.
Williams’ yellow card for a rash tackle on Liverpool’s Jack Robinson in the 88th minute put TFC in a bit of danger, but Cole comically ballooned the ensuing free kick past the far post.
NOTES: TFC returns to MLS action on July 28 when they host the Houston Dynamo… Forward Eric Hassli, acquired by Toronto in a trade with Vancouver on Friday, was not available for selection versus Liverpool… Saturday was Rodger’s first match as manager of Liverpool. He was appointed as the Reds’ new coach last month… Liverpool’s pre-season tour of North America continues with friendlies against AS Roma (July 25 in Boston) and Tottenham (July 28 in Baltimore)… Natural grass was put down over the artificial surface at Rogers Centre for Saturday’s match.