TFC right on the ball

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:09 AM ET

Preki and his players might have gone slightly overboard when they said they deserved better than a 2-0 loss Saturday in Columbus.

But they weren't far off.

Yes, Columbus outshot Toronto FC 6-3 in their Major League Socccer season opener and had far more corners and free kicks. But in terms of quality chances, the margin was a slim 4-3 for Columbus.

Martin Saric and O'Brian White both had tremendous opportunities they could not convert, while the play that led to the second Crew goal, should never have been allowed to come about by the referees.

TFC had the ball more often than Columbus at the beginning of the game and for much of the second half. The problem was that, unlike the Crew, the visitors seemed to have little idea what to do with it. Passes were misfired, most either careening out of play or to the Crew.

No matter, it's over now and Preki will have two weeks to figure out how to get his club to convert its chances. TFC takes on the New England Revolution in Foxborough, Mass., on April 10, and there will be a lot to work on. In no particular order:

* The forward combination of Dwayne De Rosario and White -- which showed flashes of potential -- is still very much a work in progress.

* TFC must put more pressure offensively on its opponents. That starts in the backfield, where the clearing passes must improve.

* The midfield needs more precision as well. Julian de Guzman, in particular, was spotty and has shown better in the past.

"We turned the ball over at midfield," Preki said postgame Saturday. "It wasn't like Columbus was getting behind us." A number of offside calls did have a lot to do with that though.

* TFC must also clean up its handling of set plays, a major sore point a season ago. Crossed signals allowed the Crew's Andy Ito to sneak in for a header to open the scoring.

"We lost some markers there," goaltender Stefan Frei said of the play. "(Columbus has) some pretty tall guys that need to be marked tightly."

One of them, Steven Lenhart, caused TFC problems all day, though Reds captain Jim Brennan wasn't overly impressed. Lenhart frustrated TFC by consistently going down at the slightest provocation.

"He plays hard, but he complains too much. I don't like that," Brennan said, adding that one of the positives his side took out of the loss was its compete level.

FOOT DOWN

"We went at them and won our challenges," he said. "We let their strikers know that they were in a game. That's what we have to do, go out there and put our foot down."

Added fellow defender Ty Harden: "We're a team that's going to work really hard. Results will come with that."

That remains to be seen, but what is clear is that, after numerous comings and goings in recent days, two weeks of training is coming at a most beneficial time.

"(The scheduling quirk) works in our favour," De Rosario said. "It's a good opportunity to get to know some of the guys and for them to get adjusted in Toronto. Get settled in, get comfortable."

Newcomer Nick LaBrocca, who said life with TFC has been a whirlwind so far (he arrived late Thursday, trained Friday before flying to Columbus), is looking forward to the extended break.

"I have to get used to my teammates, get the timing right," he said.

That might be the biggest challenge for the roster as a whole, but time is on TFC's side. For now.


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