If only teams were awarded something for moral victories, Toronto FC would have picked up three points in Seattle on Saturday night.
Missing no less than six starters for a variety of reasons and forced to deploy three young defenders who never played together before (and one who was only making his second start as a professional), TFC put forth a valiant effort at CenturyLink Field before succumbing 2-1 to the Sounders.
Absent for TFC on this night were forwards Sebastian Giovinco (abductor injury) and Jozy Altidore (national team duty), midfielders Benoit Cheyrou (heel injury) and Collen Warner (suspension), and defenders Ahmed Kantari (foot injury) and Justin Morrow (back in Toronto with his pregnant wife). Also absent were Damien Perquis and Daniel Lovitz, both out injured.
Soccer Central podcast: SPORTSNET.CA’s Soccer Central podcast, hosted by John Molinaro and James Sharman, takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport’s biggest issues. To listen and subscribe to the podcast, CLICK HERE.
TFC’s roster was so depleted that there were only four players on the bench (usually there are seven) and coach Greg Vanney was forced into fielding a three-man back line, featuring rookie Clement Simonin, who had previously only played in one MLS game—and that was back in March. With so many starters missing and lacking in options, Vanney went with an experimental 3-4-3 formation that the players struggled with at times.
Still, even with all those factors working against them, the Reds held their own against the Sounders and nearly nicked a point in Seattle, not the easiest place to earn a result. However, Clint Dempsey’s goal in the 77th minute delivered the cruel blow, ensuring the Reds walked away with nothing, except their pride.
Vanney lauded the collective effort of his players, saying they “laid it all out there” against a desperate team in a difficult situation.
“I was very proud of the effort that the guys put out there. We came in with no excuses, and ultimately it comes down to a couple of details or a couple of plays over the course of 90 minutes that were the difference. I thought we deserved something out of the game for both our effort and for the performance,” Vanney said.
“In the end, we didn’t make the one or two plays to squeeze the result.”
Simonin played alongside Josh Williams and Eriq Zavaleta in defence, and their lack of playing time together showed, although they were routinely left exposed by the central midfield duo of captain Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio.
On the first goal in the sixth minute, TFC was caught up field and Seattle quickly countered with Dempsey finding a streaking Obafemi Martins. The back three failed to communicate and Dempsey played a ball over the top for Martin to run onto and slot past Chris Konopka.
Toronto’s lack of defensive organization continued for most of the opening half, but they weren’t punished. After the break, they looked far more organized and did a much better job of staying compact and keeping their shape. They even managed to tie the game in the 59th minute with an unmarked Zavaleta nodding home a cross from Ashton Morgan from deep inside the box.
Seattle looked out of sorts for most of the second half, and had trouble connecting their play and making simple passes. But Toronto was a bit too aggressive in their forays into the final third, and paid for it.
A Morgan giveaway deep inside Seattle’s half led to a quick transition by the Sounders with Dempsey flicking the ball on for Martins to race onto down the right flank. The Nigerian took a bit of a heavy touch and Zavaleta had the angle on him, but he didn’t slide in or clear it. It went from bad to worse for Toronto when Konopka couldn’t handle Martins’ tame shot, spilling it at the top of the box, and allowing Dempsey to score on the rebound into an empty net.
“We probably could shave held a bit more and protected a bit more,” Vanney said of conceding the late winner. “I was screaming throughout the second half. The group was eager and trying to push.”
No doubt, TFC was easily caught out on the Seattle transition, but had Zavaleta made that tackle or had Konopka not coughed up that juicy rebound, Vanney’s men would have walked out of Seattle with a point from a game that had disaster written all over it right from the opening kickoff.