Work to do for TFC

DAN ILIKA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:48 PM ET

Toronto FC may have escaped with a 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers in its home opener, but the club isn’t out of the woods just yet.

After dropping last Saturday’s season opener to the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto’s match against Portland was as close to a must-win as you can get this early in the MLS season.

The club did take the three points in front of a passionate home crowd, but it wasn’t smooth sailing by any stretch — an indication of what still needs to be done for the Reds to earn a post-season berth for the first time in franchise history.

The 2011 season is still in its infancy, but early signs show a discombobulated Toronto squad that is still trying to figure out a new system on the fly.

And while hiccups are to be expected when a new style of play is implemented, the Reds need to get back to the basics. You need to crawl before you can walk, as the saying goes, and TFC is moving at a snail’s pace on defence, a weakness that has to be amended before it is exposed against stronger competition.

The Reds were picked apart for four goals by the Whitecaps. They played much worse on defence against Portland than the 2-0 victory would suggest, something the club will need to improve greatly as it sees more experienced opponents in the coming weeks.

The squad also looked lost on offence, with broken plays dominating most of its possessions and poor ball movement leading to far too many turnovers.

Whether it was the cold whether or the nerves of playing in front of the home crowd for the first time this year, Toronto had a hard time moving the ball, particularly in the middle of the field.

Many of the passes were brilliant in theory, but poor in practice, as players weren’t coming to the ball and moving without it.

Reds coach Aron Winter isn’t pleased with the passing game through the first two games, and said he thinks his boys are too tense.

“What I want is the players ... when they are receiving the ball ... that they stay relaxed,” Winter said. “They don’t have to be afraid because (they know) they can play football.”

After controlling the tempo in Vancouver by way of an impressive 63% possession Toronto faltered at home as Portland controlled the ball with 55% possession.

And while the team won’t win the possession battle in all 34 games this season, losing goes against everything Winter’s possession-oriented system hinges upon.

Crisp ball movement and finding the open man are the keys to running Toronto’s new 4-3-3 offence, something it didn’t do Saturday.

Another area the club needs to improve is creating opportunities, where it has yet to find a way to force set plays while trying to find its way under Winter’s tutelage.

Against two expansion teams, TFC has taken a combined five corner kicks while giving up a combined 20 between. This is a glaring weakness, as corners are a tremendous opportunity for the athletic Reds to exploit the opposition and increase their goal-scoring.

“There are a lot more technical things I expect from the players and at (this) point I’m not happy or satisfied,” Winter said.

All is not lost for Toronto, however, as the side showed flashes of brilliance and signs that Winter’s system is starting to make sense.

Forward Javier Martina, who played under Winter for Dutch side Ajax, may be the scoring threat the Reds need alongside captain Dwayne De Rosario after trading forward Chad Barrett to the L.A. Galaxy in January.

Whether that will translate into victories remains to be seen, but it’s clear that TFC’s growing pains aren’t over yet.

dan.ilika@sunmedia.ca


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