Toronto FC didn’t lose Wednesday night because of poor road form or tactics.
It got beat by a better team.
Even short-handed, the New York Red Bulls’ superior class shined through over the full 90 minutes, rarely tested in a 1-0 victory over visiting TFC.
Toronto must have expected a better result, with New York missing four regulars, including newest designated player, Mexico captain Rafael Marquez and starting goalkeeper, Senegal’s Bouna Coundoul away on international duty.
Toronto’s road record drops to a miserable 1-7-1, as the team’s lack of composure in the final third is disastrous away from home where scoring chances are few.
Look no further than Red Bulls home debutant Thierry Henry for the discrepancy in cutting edge and quality. And although the Frenchman didn’t find goal, his superior physical strength and soccer intellect were readily on display.
Henry will be criticized for going to ground far too easy after being sent in alone on TFC goalkeeper Stefan Frei in the 22nd minute. Give the official credit for resisting the temptation to point to the spot after Henry began to go down, even before a diving Frei had reached the player.
Seconds later, Henry’s worth showed itself. After TFC’s own designated player, Julian de Guzman, lost the ball cheaply in possession. Henry, with some nifty footwork was able to elude de Guzman, while holding off Jacob Peterson. Before Nane Joseph could reach in support, the ball squirted to Seth Stammler, who in a moment of quality flicked the ball over a static backline to find Joel Lindpere in all alone.
Frei was rendered helpless this time, with Lindpere sliding the ball into the right-hand corner and past the sprawling goalkeeper.
TFC will feel hard-done by, victims of a non-call of its own in the eighth minute. Peterson found space behind the Red Bulls backline with a step on left-back Danleigh Borman. The TFC right-midfielder had his left arm pulled back by Borman, who was filling in for the absent Roy Miller. The slight tug allowed Borman to regain position goal side and block Peterson’s shot attempt.
Peterson had a golden opportunity for redemption in the 27th minute. Minutes after Lindpere’s marker, it was Dwayne De Rosario’s turn to find space behind Borman. The TFC captain took his time and found Peterson at the top of the box. Peterson should have done much better with so much time on the ball, instead firing wide left and not even coming close to challenging Canadian goalkeeper Greg Sutton.
Sutton received his first MLS start since being released by TFC last June. The Hamilton native looked rusty at times, but was rarely tested by his former teammates.
TFC’s counter-attacking style doesn’t adapt well to playing from behind and the team had another setback in the 32nd minute with striker Chad Barrett pulling up lame chasing down a long ball.
The forward was unable to continue with what’s being called a “tweaked” hamstring. With the impressive Maicon Santos unavailable, Preki was forced to call on Spanish newcomer Mista prematurely.
The forward hasn’t found the transition to MLS easy and his influence was non-descript. The striker was most noticeable when complaining to officials.
TFC was no more effective in the second half, despite Henry being subbed off.
TFC’s best chance second- half chance fell to substitute O’Brian White. In the 84th minute, White was played into space at the top of the box by Mista. Instead of shooting first-time, White took a touch on the ball, losing space and momentum, and eventually shooting high.
TFC is now five points behind New York for second place in the Eastern Conference.