TFC can't clean Plate

STEVEN SANDOR, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

Ali Gerba had two golden chances to mark his Toronto FC debut with a goal, but couldn't convert either one.

The appearance of the Canadian striker was one of the few highlights of a listless game against Argentina giant River Plate last night at BMO Field.

After the teams jogged through 90 minutes of goalless action, TFC lost 4-3 on penalties in front of 20,005 fans at BMO Field. River won the friendly, and the Carlsberg Cup that goes with it, when TFC defender Marco Velez's sudden-death attempt from the spot missed the net by a wide margin.

"When we got to penalty kicks, anyone can win," said Gerba, who scored on his penalty, along with teammates Chad Barrett and Nick Garcia. "It's Russian roulette."

River Plate just completed the Argentine Clausura season, in which it finished eighth.

The club did not use either of its two biggest stars. Ariel Ortega, who has played in three World Cups, did not dress. Also, Marcelo Gallardo, who spent last season as D.C. United's Designated Player, was not in uniform.

How slow was the game? It took until the 32nd minute of the game for either side to produce a shot on target. Gustavo Bou's shot from long range gave TFC keeper Brian Edwards no problem.

Gerba had a golden chance to open the scoring in the 27th minute. He was alone in front of the River Plate goal, as Dwayne De Rosario swung a cross into the box. But the ball took an awkward bounce on the FieldTurf before it got to Gerba and the striker couldn't play the hop.

Gerba said he simply was not used to the way the ball bounces on the artificial stuff.

"I need as many games as possible to get used to the turf," he said.

With just a minute left in the first half, Gerba got behind the River defence, but 'keeper Leandro Chichizola was able to come off his line, take away the shooting angle, and block the attempt.

Despite the missed chances, Toronto FC assistant coach Nick Dasovic said he was impressed by the way Gerba worked his way into the attack and linked up with the midfielders.

"He missed a few chances," Dasovic said. "I'm sure he's disappointed about that."

Gerba's rights were acquired in a trade with San Jose that also brought Garcia to Toronto. The striker was eligible to play July 15, but he was on Gold Cup duty with Canada until the national team was eliminated on Saturday. Gerba has scored 15 times in 28 games for the national team.

Scarborough product O'Brian White, taken by TFC in the first round of the 2009 draft, also made his debut with the team after recovering from a torn ACL. Gambian defender Emmanuel Gomez also was placed in the starting lineup. Gabe Gala played on the wing, and Dasovic was impressed with his work.

Veteran TFC midfielder Carl Robinson said the game would help TFC prepare not only for its game in Columbus on Saturday, but for the first leg of its CONCACAF Champions League qualifier against Puerto Rico next Wednesday. Both teams play similar styles of passing football, Robinson said.

Don't forget Boca

Diego Maradona would have been proud. A half-hour before kickoff, fans of Boca Juniors, River Plater's Buenos Aires-based arch-rivals, unfurled two flags bearing the blue and yellow colours of their team in the south stand. Maradona had two stints with Boca and has been quite public of his dislike for River.


Videos

Photos