TORONTO – As far as silver linings go, this one had a dull finish rather than a glistening glow.
Toronto FC came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw against the New England Revolution Friday night, as the Reds continue to play out the string in another dreary Major League Soccer campaign.
TFC captain Steven Caldwell looked to have scored the winner in the 88th minute when he headed home a Bobby Convey cross. But the Toronto defender was called for a foul on New England’s Jose Goncalves, even though replays showed there was minimal contact when he jumped for the ball.
Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen didn’t get an explanation from the officials. He did, however, watch a video replay and felt his team was denied a legitimate goal.
“I think the (referee) knows he’s made a mistake and unfortunately it cost us a well-deserved win,” Nelsen said in the post-game press conference
Nelsen told reporters that the referee admitted to Caldwell on the field that he blew the call, but the TFC defender told reporters that he never received any such explanation.
“It was the wrong decision by the referee. It certainly wasn’t a foul,” Caldwell said.
TFC is in third-last place in the 19-team league with a 4-12-10 record and 22 points. Hopes of a playoff berth were dashed long ago, so all Toronto has to play for now is pride. With two months and eight games remaining, they’re poised to better last season’s win total (five) and number of points (23).
Keep in mind last year’s TFC side was one of the worst in MLS history, so the fact that this year’s edition is an improvement is hardly an accomplishment.
No doubt new club president Kevin Payne and Nelsen had to clean up a bit of a mess by the previous regime, and were hamstrung by too many bad contracts and little salary cap room to maneuver.
Still, there is a sense that this team with the talent it had its disposal should be further along and have accumulated more than a scant four wins by this point.
Nelsen, though, painted a far more optimistic picture of the situation.
“We’re getting there. We’re not there. We now that. Of course we have a long way to go, but we’re making some nice strides,” Nelsen said.
He later added: “I can sit here in a position where I can say (TFC) is in the best situation it’s been in for a number of years.”
Not for the first time this campaign, TFC stumbled out of the gate, conceding an early goal and struggling for the opening few minutes before finally settling down and imposing their will on the game.
Failure to put in a complete 90-minute performance cost them dearly against the Revolution, like it has so many times before.
“The last 80 minutes we were the better team. We came out slow, though. The first 10 minutes were not good and not acceptable. We need to cut that out,” said Andrew Wiedeman, Toronto’s goal-scorer on the night.
It’s August 31 but Nelsen is still talking about #TFC needing to put together a complete 90-minute performance. Progress? Not enough, IMO.
— John Molinaro (@JohnMolinaro) August 31, 2013
Nelsen made one lineup change from last week, swapping in forward Robert Earnshaw for Jeremy Brockie who returned to his Australian team after his loan deal came to an end. Canadian youngster Jonathan Osorio overcame an ankle injury to crack the starting 11. TFC was missing influential midfielder Matias Laba and forward Danny Koevermans through injury.
A second-minute goal by the Revolution sucked the life out of the stadium and forced TFC to chase for the rest of the half.
New England’s Kelyn Rowe went on a dashing run down the middle, and blew by Doneil Henry when the Toronto defender stepped up to try to stop him. Rowe burst into the box and fired a shot that was blocked, but collected his rebound and squared a pass for unmarked teammate Diego Fagundez to tap into an empty net.
It was a defensively inept display from the Toronto players, who stood like statues on the play and didn’t do nearly enough to try to close down Rowe.
New England nearly doubled its advantage moments later when Fagundez unleashed a curling shot from the edge of the box that seemed destined for the far corner. Goalkeeper Joe Bendik athletically parried it away to keep TFC in the contest.
Nelsen admitted his team fell asleep for the opening 10 minutes.
“We were slow out of the blocks. We see improvements in the team and we’re getting close to being a 90-minute team. But it wasn’t good enough, and the boys knew it,” Nelsen offered.
Toronto began to play with more purpose after receiving that wakeup call. The Reds’ buildup attacking play, while still marred by the odd errant pass, showed flashes of promise. But the team’s final ball and final touch in the box lacked quality, and several scoring chances went begging.
TFC continued to chip away and their resiliency paid off in extra time. New England failed to deal with a high cross played into the box, and the ball hit a number of Revolution players before falling to Wiedeman who hammered it home.
“It was a bit of a pinball goal. It wasn’t the prettiest but it went in the net,” Wiedeman said. “It pinged around and fell to me with the whole net (in front of me). I couldn’t really miss that one.”
Toronto carried the action for the majority of the second half, but never really threatened to score before the Caldwell incident.
“What’s unfortunate is that for 80 minutes of the game the guys were superb. I’m more disappointed because they really deserved the win. It was taken away from them,” Nelsen stated.
NOTES: New England leads the all-time series against Toronto with five wins and seven draws in 16 meetings. The Reds are unbeaten in seven home games (two wins, five draws) versus the Revolution… TFC returns to action next Saturday when it visits the Portland Timbers…