Toronto FC left its stars on the bench, and the makeshift Reds lineup was overwhelmed the MLS champions.
Toronto FC's visit to Real Salt Lake looked like one of those FA Cup matches where a semi-pro qualifier is drawn against a top Premiership side. Or a World Cup match when the qualifier from Oceania has to play Brazil. The underdogs try to play as defensively as they can, try to limit the damage, but are simply battered down by the more talented team.
Real Salt Lake won the game 2-1, but the scoreline wasn't any sort of indication of the run of play. If it wasn't for some splendid saves from TFC keeper Stefan Frei and some questionable decision making by Real Salt Lake's strikers, this one would have been out of hand inside of 25 minutes. Really, even in the loss, Frei could get a couple of votes as MLS player of the week, as he was easily TFC's best man on the field.
With Toronto playing its third game in six days, and dealing with the Rocky Mountain altitude of Utah, Preki decided to start with Dwayne De Rosario and midfield engineer Julian de Guzman on the bench. Of TFC's six goals scored in MLS play, DeRo has scored five and assisted on the other. Striker O‚Brian White, the scorer of the only MLS goal tallied by a Red other than De Rosario, was also on the sidelines.
All three came in at halftime, after the Reds were down 2-0 ˜ and De Rosario scored a late penalty-kick goal to make a game that shouldn't have been close a one-goal affair.
TFC started with striker Chad Barrett alone up front, daring the home team to but pressure on a very defensive-minded lineup, with the Reds trying to pack up the midfield.
Instead, RSL, even without midfield star Javier Morales out with strep throat, took it as an invitation to attack, attack, attack. With TFC deciding not to pressure Real Salt Lake up the park, RSL's midfield used the time and space they were given to pick the Reds apart.
Jamaican national teamer Andy Williams, whose penalty kick was the MLS Cup decider in 2009, tested the TFC back line with cross after cross. And Collen Warner, RSL's first-round pick in the 2010 draft, gave TFC fits with the way he ran at them with the ball at his feet.
It only took 13 minutes for TFC's defensive plan to come undone.
Off a corner cook, RSL striker Alvaro Sabaro was the first to meet the ball at the far post. With the ball bounding towards the goal line, Jamison Olave had a tap-in. As striker Saborio rose to head the ball, Frei was impeded by his own defender, Raivis Hscanovics. With the fullback and goalkeeper interfering with each other, Saborio was able to be first to the ball and set up Olave‚s goal.
Saborio's great start was soon spoiled by poor judgement. Veteran Williams delivered a picture perfect low cross which had the entire TFC back line beat. Saborio, streaking onto it, had Frei at his mercy. But, instead of using his head or chesting it towards goal — the ball only needed a nudge — Saborio got a yellow card for using his arm to put the ball into the TFC goal.
Rookie midfielder Collen Warner, RSL first-round pick in the 2010 draft, would force an outstanding save from Frei in the 21st minute as RSL kept up the pressure, wearing Toronto FC down in the Rocky Mountain altitude. Frei made another smart save on a free kick from Toronto native Will Johnson.
Finally, four minutes ahead of the halftime whistle, the second goal game. Williams, allowed acres of space, lashed a shot from the top of the area that gave Frei no chance. Williams hesitated with the ball, fooling TFC defender Nana Attakora, who ran away from the attacker, thinking he was going to run into the box. That gave Williams the space he needed to get a clear sight of goal and unleash the shot.
Preki changed things up in the second half, bringing in De Rosario, White and De Guzman, bringing more forwards into the fray.
Just minutes after they came in. White hit the underside of the crossbar with a headed attempt off a great cross from De Rosario. It was an indication of just how TFC is with or without DeRo in the lineup. If you thought that the Raptors with our without Chris Bosh was a Jekyll-and-Hyde affair, De Rosario‚s influence on the Reds is even more pronounced.
And DeRo added to his goal tally with a late consolation. After his cross struck RSL's Kyke Beckerman on the arm, De Rosario was able to convert the ensuing penalty kick past Nick Rimando, who became a cult hero last season after winning two penalty shootouts to give RSL the league title.
It was DeRo's sixth MLS goal of the season. But, it was too little, too late.