TFC is sub-par

STEVEN SANDOR, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:23 PM ET

As soon as Preki unveiled his starting lineup, it was clear that Toronto FC’s goal was to simply survive 90 minutes of soccer in Panama.

TFC’s coach put a starting 11 dominated by reserve players on the field for Tuesday night’s CONCACAF Champions League match in Panama against Arabe Unido.

The makeshift lineup wasn’t up to the task, losing 1-0 to Arabe Unido on a first-half goal from Fidel Caesar.

Two red cards didn’t help.

With three points in the bag from last week’s upset win over Cruz Azul, and a massive home date against MLS champs Real Salt Lake looming Saturday, there was no doubt that the thinking was that any points TFC got in Panama would be a bonus, not a necessity.

“It’s important everyone comes out of this game fit and healthy,” leading scorer Dwayne De Rosario told TFC’s website before the game.

Caesar scrambled home the goal after a corner kick was bobbled through the Toronto FC penalty area. Corners that are needlessly given away are so often punished — this one was set up after TFC defender Maxsim Usanov made an ill-advised back pass that was intercepted by Arabe Unido striker Manuel Mosquera. The resulting attempt on goal was deflected out of play, and the Panamanians scored on the ensuing corner.

Only three regular starters — defender Nana Attakora and midfielders Nick LaBrocca and Julian de Guzman —were on the field for the opening kickoff.

Preki left Dwayne De Rosario, the team’s leading goal-scorer, on the bench. Regular starters such as goalie Stefan Frei, defender Adrian Cann and striker Chad Barrett didn’t dress.

Third-string goalie Milos Kocic, who has been staying in game shape by playing in the Canadian Soccer League, got the start between the sticks for TFC.

De Rosario was brought in at halftime, and Toronto FC upped the tempo.

But, five minutes after the Reds really began to try and press the Panamanians, LaBrocca got a straight red and a trip to the showers.

After AU keeper Jose Calderon bobbled an attempt on goal by de Guzman, LaBrocca dove in after the loose ball. LaBrocca accelerated on the articial turf, and his cleats crashed into Calderon’s face.

It wasn’t intentional, but it was unfortunate.

Ironically, it was a great pass from LaBrocca that set up that scoring chance.

Arabe Unido usually plays on grass in Colon, Panama. But its stadium was not up to CONCACAF standards, forcing the team to play on a field near Panama City, which has the fake stuff.

This isn’t the first time a team has been forced to abandon its home field in CONCACAF play. Two years ago, the Montreal Impact played Nicaraguan champs Real Esteli in Honduras because of stadium issues.

After the red card, Preki brought in Dan Gargan and Joseph Nane to shore up the defence, despite the fact his side trailed.

Mista, who could have brought some offensive spark — and experience of playing in big-time European Cup games — to a team that needed a goal, was left on the bench.

Why have the Designated Player if his job is only to sit on the bench?

TFC can find someone who makes $40,000 to do that, not a player who is a max-cap hit. A DP cannot be a benchwarmer — in MLS or CCL play.

Finally, with a couple of minutes left on the clock, Toronto FC got its one real chance to score. After the ball was scrambled through the AU penalty area, it came to Fuad Ibrahim, whose shot was blocked. De Rosario attacked the loose ball, and drove it at goal, but it hit goalkeeper Jose Calderon in the chest.

Then, in the ensuing scramble, Ibrahim picked up his second yellow of the game, and a frustrated TFC was down to nine men.

With a two-man advantage, Arabe Unido should have made it 2-0, but Armando Cooper was robbed by Kocic. If a tiebreaker comes down to goal difference, it could be a huge moment.

steven.sandor@sunmedia.ca


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