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Saturday, 10 September 2011

Upon First Glance – Columbus Crew v Toronto FC

    A night of firsts as Toronto FC picked up their first road win of the season, a first ever over Columbus, and clinched the Trillium Cup for the first time. An entertaining 2-4 win was nerve-wracking at times, but enjoyable in the end.

A few thoughts on the match:

    The starting lineup saw Koevermans only fit enough for the bench, though Frei did return between the pipes. Iro was facing his former side; Tchani was not fit as he struggles with a knee injury. Former TFC draft pick James was in the centre of Columbus’ defense.

    The sparse nature of the travelling crowd was disappointing yet expected. The rivalry may have been manufactured and tainted by events – taser related – but it was still good to have a bit of needle with our closest competitors. With Montreal joining the league next year, and Vancouver already a Canadian rival, the possibility exists that this will die out further, hopefully not though.

    Toronto showed their attacking intentions early - a Johnson header from a corner kick was prevented from opening the scoring only by Hesmer tipping it onto the bar. True to form – missing a chance then giving up a goal - TFC almost conceded as Frei had to make a big save on a Rogers effort.

    Considering how rare it is for Toronto to open the scoring and tally in the first half, it was a surprise when Soolsma controlled a Frings shot from outside the box and slotted past Hesmer. Ekpo kept him onside as he was lax in pushing out after the corner kick had been cleared.

    Plata seemed to be putting in a defensive shift tonight, tracking back to pester the Crew attackers. His touchline skill making a fool of Miranda as he pushed the ball down the line and rounded his marker was exquisite. It was his cross that gave TFC a two-goal lead going into the half as a delicious left-sided cross found the head of Johnson who placed his header across the keeper into the far netting.

    Coming out for the second half Toronto almost enhanced their lead; Avila lashed a curling volley that eluded Hesmer only to strike the crossbar. It would have been a beautiful strike for a welcome attacking addition to the Toronto side.

    Frei looked a tad rusty out there – understandable given the time he’s been out. He was flapping at crosses; not collecting as confidently as he normally does before his night was ended early by a collision with Renteria. He appeared to be grabbing his hip, which was later confirmed as a contusion, should not be too serious, but a shame nonetheless.

    Heinemann came on for Renteria as Frei was replaced by Kocic. It took him only seconds to get the Crew back into the match smashing home a square ball from Rogers. Kocic had no chance, but TFC was looking shaky defensively.

    Toronto earned a lot of corner kicks this match, but lack the height to keep delivering the ball into the box. The average MLS centre back is too big for a smaller team to win many aerial contests; perhaps a short corner or training ground routine would be a fruitful addition to the repertoire, rather than just keep hammering no hopers into the centre of the box.

    Cunningham came on in the seventy-fourth; TFC legend that he was, it was still worrying to imagine the possibilities. It was enjoyable to see Frings give him the stink-eye when Cunningham was discussing the possibility of booking Soolsma for a late slide tackle on a downed Ekpo.

    Speaking of Ekpo, his charging runs were really causing TFC problems as the match progressed. A powerful and sizeable unit, the Nigerian is one of the underrated central midfielders in MLS. If he ever becomes a consistent performer he would be a force.

    Crew defender James is a nasty piece of work out there, which can be a good thing. But he should have been booked at least twice. A hack at Avila as he lay on the ground in the first half and another swinging foot that caught de Guzman in the second should have seen the Soca Warrior sent off, but neither was considered worthy of a caution.

    Threatening his manhood seemed to spark de Guzman to life. He made a very physical and opportunistic play to knock a doddling Burns off the ball and place a shot past Hesmer. Could it have been called a foul? Possibly but was fair enough in the end.

    Mendoza pulled one back for Columbus to ensure the nerves endured further jangly moments only for six minutes of injury time to be announced. But de Guzman and the cameo substitute Koevermans combined to seal the match as a long ball from the midfielder up the right flank found the prowling Dutchman who outpaced Crew goalkeeper Hesmer, touched the ball around him and curled it into the gaping net.

    For the fifty to a hundred travelling fans it was a trip well worth making; TFC has some momentum coming off a much needed break and head into CONCACAF Champions League play on a high note.

    There were some comical moments to ease the tense game along. Plata appeared to get foam on his shoe as he prepared for a free kick, he did not seem impressed. Eckersley charged back to follow his man into the corner and make the tackle with only one shoe on, holding the other as he chased down his man.

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