Ray of hope for Toronto FC

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

Danny Dichio took a few strides toward the noisiest corner of BMO Field, turned his hand as if to crank up the volume control and concluded by booting the corner flag off its base.

That was the exclamation mark to the end of Toronto FC's scoring drought before 19,843 fans. But a shaky second half in its own zone during last night's 2-1 win over the last-placed New York Red Bulls doesn't end all doubt about the club's playoff pedigree.

What all agreed was an ugly decision halts a three-game Major League Soccer/Nutrilite Canadian Championship losing streak and puts TFC back in the race for its first post-season berth with a 5-5-4 mark.

Dichio, a favourite son since scoring the first goal in franchise history three years ago, knew what a long week it had been for players and fans, dealing with the slump and a public fan-management rift. Thus a little fence-mending with the denizens in the south-east section after he made it 2-0 in the 43rd minute.

"The only way we can do our talking as a team is on the pitch," Dichio said. "Their (fan) frustration has come out, but it comes out in nice ways when we score. (His goal) came at a vital time, because we weren't playing to our maximum."

Toronto had two bizarre goals, a rebound from an Amado Guevara penalty kick after a handball call that went right to a wide open Sam Cronin in the second minute and Dichio's, after a Pablo Vitti breakaway was stopped by extremely unlucky Bulls 'keeper Danny Cepero.

"We were a little lucky to be two up at halftime, and knew they'd come out like a wounded animal and battle for their manager," TFC coach Chris Cummins said. "But we've been questioning ourselves about whether we can grind results out. (Last night) showed we can. I'm disappointed in the goal we gave away (to an unchecked Alberto Celades in the 54th). We've invited a lot of pressure."

Cummins had said at the end of the week that slumping striker Chad Barrett's ankle was healthy, but took advantage of Guevara's return from the Honduran national squad to sit Barrett at the start. Barrett came in for the scoreless Vitti in the 68th minute.

"He has been hungry in training this week and (sitting him) might give him some hunger back as well," Cummins said of Barrett. "Pablo's a wonderful footballer; unfortunately, he can't hit the back of the net right now, can't hit a barn door with a banjo as they say. But he's working. He's tidy, he links the play. The (bumpy BMO) pitch doesn't help him. I wanted to try a couple of different things with Amado coming back."

New central defender Nick Garcia was as savvy and vocal as advertised, but the team has lost some speed at the position by acquiring him.

"We're trying to get a winning mentality with people who will come in and fight and die for the club and Nicky fits right into that," Cummins said.

The early goals gave TFC hope it can get the needed four-goal margin in Montreal this Thursday, to knock the USL Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps out of the Nutrilite and get into the CONCACAF Champions League.

"This wasn't enjoyable, but we'll take a scrappy, ugly game and a victory after three defeats," midfielder Carl Robinson said.

Cronin, a first-round pick, was getting teammates to sign the ball after his first MLS goal, tying the team mark for its earliest goal.

"Sam's a good kid who will listen and is willing to play any position," Robinson said. "It's unusual that Amado would miss a penalty, he's usually 10 out of 10, but Sammy followed through.

"We don't usually get those (handball calls in the box). I said to the ref: 'Are you sure?' and he said: 'Do you want me to change my mind?' "

Once Cronin broke the ice, even conservative players such as Kevin Harmse started jumping into the attack.

"I think that's only the second time we've had a two-goal lead this season," relieved TFC goaltender Stefan Frei said. "That was important to take the pressure off. You give up a bad goal, you know it's going to come down to the wire. But we stuck with it and put a body on everybody."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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