TORONTO - That loss was on the coach.
Players always are accountable for their play on the field. But they need to be put in a position to succeed.
Toronto FC was not put in a position to succeed by their manager Preki Saturday at Real Salt Lake.
There is no shame in losing 2-1 to a quality side like RSL. But the decision to leave Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman on the bench to start the game was a curious and flawed choice that came back to bite him.
Squad selection is one thing, but the backwards tactics of putting nine men behind the ball and hoping for the best is a disservice to positive soccer. Tactics as such essentially concede defeat before the whistle is even blown, but Preki would never admit to that.
It’s fine for Preki to acknowledge post-game his plan was flawed. But to even think his tactical approach was the right decision in the first place is a head-scratcher.
TFC is not a defensive juggernaut capable of sustaining pressure for 90 minutes without conceding. They are not a side with players able to hold up the ball and keep possession for long stretches either. Nor do the players have enough experience together to execute, applying pressure across the park as a unit.
It’s fine to field a more defensive side on the road against the MLS Cup champs. Preki even fielded a defensive formation in TFC’s home opener against expansion Philadelphia. Regardless, any defensive tactics aren’t just reason to keep TFC’s two best players out of the starting XI.
Three games in seven days will worry any coach about over-working his players. But both De Rosario and de Guzman are irreplaceable in the lineup. Just like Adrian Cann has proven to be a rock in TFC’s centre-back. Cann played 90 minutes, all three games. Why not De Rosario and de Guzman too?
If rest was needed, one of the two should have sat against an inferior Montreal side at home mid-week.
De Rosario and de Guzman were lively coming on as halftime substitutes. If anything, their introduction gives reason to believe TFC can compete when at full strength.
The first half was as poor a performance from a professional side one will see.
Even with nine men behind the ball, TFC gave RSL too much space, allowing players to turn and attack in vulnerable positions, culminating in RSL’s second goal.
And just as bad, when finally gaining possession, giving it away so cheaply highlighted the lack of quality.
This made any counterattack an absolute impossibility. Chad Barrett had no hope as the lone target-man with a midfield disinterested in holding up the ball. It starts at the back, but kick-and-run will never lead to any composed, disciplined play.
This refusal to play positive soccer is not only difficult to watch, but doesn’t work. Quality always will shine through over 90 minutes. And so a shaky back-line will be exposed.
Cue the Eastern European wing back combination of Maksim Usanov and Raivis Hscanovics. Both imports are completely lost, particularly the latter.
The way the RSL attackers walked around the Latvian left back was embarrassing to watch. And unfortunately, Hscanovics isn’t any better in distribution. Hscanovics’ lack of pace and inability to contain players with the ball at their feet was all too apparent against Sainey Nyassi of the New England Revolution and has become a trend ever since.
It’s a wonder how Hscanovics, and the similarly slow-footed Usanov, found their way to the club in a league predicated on speed and pace. If these are the product of Preki’s so-called European connections, it leaves a lot to be desired.