So much for going for the jugular.
With an opportunity to wrapup the Nutrilite Canadian Championship at Vancouver’s rain-soaked Swangard Stadium Wednesday night, Toronto FC instead took a conservative approach and ended up drawing 0-0 with the Whitecaps.
With designated player Julian de Guzman unavailable due to injury, Reds head coach Preki also chose to leave his two hottest players — goaltender Stefan Frei and forward Chad Barrett (until the second half) — on the bench and subbed out standout defender Nana Attakora for the second half.
After beating Montreal twice in recent matches, Toronto was in position to clinch its second straight Canadian title. But, likely for a couple of reasons, Preki and the Reds played it safe.
Toronto gave veteran keeper Jon Conway his first start of the season and without key attackers, the team’s offence looked punchless, particularly in a first half dominated by Vancouver.
Though the Whitecaps could not get on the board in front of the crowd of 4,928, thanks mainly to strong play by TFC’s defenders, the Vancouver side soundly outchanced the Reds in the half.
The weaker starting lineup and more passive approach than usual likely was Preki’s way of looking ahead to a couple of matches and really, it was probably sound judgment.
Toronto meets the New England Revolution at BMO Field on Saturday and that match will be the squad’s fifth game in what has been an extremely gruelling last two weeks. Though the franchise talks up the importance of the Canadian Championship tourney, league play is clearly and understandably more important. The clash with New England looms as an important test for the Reds, who have turned things around since a 4-1 Revolution drubbing back on April 10th. Toronto is 5-2-2 in MLS and NCC play since then and has opened up a two-point lead on fifth-place New England.
It is also possible that, though they would never admit it, the Reds did not want to crush the Whitecaps on Wednesday because that would make the next meeting of the teams, two weeks from now at BMO, a meaningless affair.
With tickets to sell and interest to create, the franchise was better served seeing Vancouver alive to fight another day. The draw means the game should be an important one, depending on how Vancouver fares against Montreal after tying the Impact 1-1 earlier this month. A TFC win or draw clinches the title.
TFC did get striker O’Brian White and defender Dan Gargan back from injuries and finally started creating some offensive pressure late in the second half when Barrett joined De Rosario and White went off.
Officials were worried that a massive thunderstorm and downpour that caused power outages in the area would play havoc with the game, but conditions improved significantly, though the pitch was soggy.
Toronto still has not won at Swangard Stadium, having lost 2-0 last year after tying 2-2 in 2007.
The CONCACAF Champions League draw was made earlier in the day Wednesday in New York.
If Toronto FC wins the Canadian Championship it will meet Motagua of Honduras in the preliminary round in July.
Motagua feature ex-TFC high scorer Amado Guevara. Should TFC advance to the group stage, it would be grouped with MLS champion Real Salt Lake, Panama’s Arabe Unido and the winner of San Francisco (Panama)/Cruz Azul (Mexico).