The weather was frightful and, for a while yesterday, so was Toronto's Major League Soccer team.
Toronto FC showed nothing to indicate it could beat defending MLS champion Columbus. Defenders tripped on each other; the forwards gave Columbus netminder Andy Gruenebaum a busman's holiday and Toronto's midfielders looked like they were playing in a phone booth. Last year, they would've lost a game like this.
But the skies cleared, and so did the fog the Reds seemed to be in. This year, they can't lose. Some believe it's the addition of veterans such as Adrian Serioux and Dwayne DeRosario. Some claim it is the play of rookie netminder Stefan Frei. But the Reds' biggest addition this year is Lady Luck. Despite being outshot 17-5, despite falling behind in the second half, Toronto clawed back to for a 1-1 tie.
Many of the 19,988 fans -- the second time in three games there have been empty seats instead of the usual capacity crowd -- had their ardour dampened by a torrential downpour and a wicked north wind. That, combined with Columbus attack, kept TFC bottled in its end the first four minutes.
"I'll be honest ... we didn't manage the conditions. The heavens opened up and we were still trying to play tippy-tap football.," manager Chris Cummins said. "We didn't manage the game well in the first half. We didn't have enough energy."
Columbus had an 11-2 advantage in shots and five corners in the half.
"When we got the ball our midfield three were very tight. You could throw a blanket over them. Columbus was setting traps, saying you can have the ball there. We didn't see that," Cummins said.
In the 24th minute, Frei deflected a shot by Robbie Roberts. He snuffed a soft, but dangerous-looking header from Alejandro Moreno. In the 39th minute, Guillermo Schelotto was set up all alone from just outside the penalty area with only Frei between him and a Red Patch Boys silencer. His missed high.
In the 54th minute, Marco Velez and Jim Brennan played "I got 'em, you got 'em" ... Oops. Emmanuel Ekpo stepped between them.
"Marco and I got mixed up," said Brennan, who added injury to insult with a bandaged left wrist that he was off to get X-rayed after the game.
"There was a lack of communication. I told Marco next time to just take charge and take Jimmy out," said Frei, finding humour in the chaos. "If one of them takes charge that probably doesn't happen. I tried to come out and cut down the angle. But (Ekpo) played it out wide and I couldn't get to it."
It was the first goal Frei had allowed in 239 minutes -- just short of Greg Sutton's team record of 273.
If Toronto has been lucky and good, the Crew couldn't crack a fortune cookie without messing up a manicure.
When Cronin and Barrett combined on a vision of loveliness it left the defending league champions winless in seven tries.
"I thought we did better in the second half. We started getting players on the ball in the right areas," Cummins said.
Cronin, ran down the left side, ducked inside a defender to take a pass near the penalty area, crossing the ball to Barrett.
"It was a perfect cross. I didn't have to do too much," said Barrett, who headed the ball past a diving Gruenebaum.
After that, Frei held off the Crew, including the game-saver with 12 minutes to play when he stopped Pat Noonan one on one.
"I wanted him to make the decision. By the time he took the shot he was only a couple feet in front of me," said Frei, who smothered the shot. "It seems every game lately there's a shot late in the game that I have to stop."
So far, so good. So far, so lucky.