After a thorough first half, TFC strayed from its game plan

Toronto FC goalkeeper Stefan Frei makes a spectacular save on Chicago’s Daniel Paladini’s...

Toronto FC goalkeeper Stefan Frei makes a spectacular save on Chicago’s Daniel Paladini’s breakaway to preserve 2-2 tie with 10 minutes to go in their 2-2 draw on Saturday night at BMO Field. (Alex Urosevic/Toronto Sun)

Kurtis Larson, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 4:14 AM ET

It was one of those draws that felt more like a loss — only it really should have been.
Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Chicago at BMO Field had many of the same elements as the previous weekend’s win over Houston. The wingers had acres of space to run at opposing defenders, Julian de Guzman put in a solid performance being the link between TFC’s backs and midfielders.
The Reds were sharp and simple for most of the match and prevented giving away possession carelessly. They were organized, confident and committed on defence throughout the first half.
But coming out of the break, Toronto ignored the tactics that were successful to start the match. Defenders weren’t combining with midfielders and a lack of off-ball movement prevented space from opening up for Toronto’s wing players.
As in Dallas on Wednesday, Toronto’s outside backs were progressively less involved in the final third and TFC became stagnant all over the pitch while simply hoping not to concede.
What resulted was a drop in energy that gave Chicago the confidence it needed to attack at will and eventually find an equalizer. Once Chicago cut the lead in half, Toronto dropped off further in hopes of salvaging three points.
And while the consensus around the dressing room was that the club let three points slip away, the Reds were lucky to come away with anything after Stefan Frei stoned Dan Paladini 10 minutes from time.
Call it fatigue, inexperience or youthfulness, but the Reds continue to award down and out teams second-half lifelines in home matches they must secure three points in.
HEAVY LEGS
Richard Eckersley was ball-watching on what should have been Chicago’s late-game winner. Frei came up huge on the play, but replays showed Eckersley opened up a massive gap between Dicoy Williams for Paladini to exploit.
Although the Englishman’s commitment in each game is unmatched, Eckersley had difficulty closing 90 minutes in Dallas and continues to fight full-match fitness.
Similarly, the absence of Mikael Yourasowsky left manager Aron Winter with minimal options in the midfield forcing TFC’s combination of Tony Tchani, Jacob Peterson and de Guzman to put in 90 minutes of work for the second time in three days.
Winter’s system asks a lot of the three central players who are generally outnumbered and forced to play from box-to-box on virtually every sequence.
While the Reds remain deep at forward and in defence, Winter’s reluctance to swap midfielders looks to be taking its toll late in games.
AROUND THE PITCH
Castrol’s MLS player index listed Frei as the second best goalkeeper in the league last week, but his game-saving, reflex stop in the 83rd minute Saturday pushes him to top spot for me  … From possible save-of-the-year to howler-of-the-year, what was Chicago ’keeper Jon Conway doing on TFC’s second goal? Good on Frei’s former backup to shake it off and come up huge on Alen Stevanovic to keep the game in reach in the 70th … Silly fouls in dangerous locations are careless ways of allowing teams back into matches as Marco Pappa’s free kick in the 63rd minute left Frei rooted … Believe it or not, Pappa’s magic was upstaged later in the night by a more superb dead ball from an expected source — David Beckham … Following multiple dismal performances, we can finally say thanks for allowing the players to decide this one. Actually, I’m not even sure how the referees fared. I guess that’s how it should be. 
NANA SPECULATION
As reports, both erroneous and credible, pursue Nana Attakora’s status with the club, the media’s addiction to the young defender’s playing time continues.
Casual fans and commentators point to Attakora’s 2010 form and his 25 league appearances a season ago, but Toronto’s ’10 defensive options were inferior to TFC’s current player pool.
Is Winter’s decision to look elsewhere after the club conceded 41 league goals in 2010 surprising?
Toronto’s current system calls for attack-minded wing backs that contribute in the final third, rather than traditional 4-4-2 outside defenders that are less involved going forward.
The removal of Nick Garcia, Maxim Usanov and Raivis Hscanovics made way for an improved pool of defenders that have relegated Attakora to the reserves.
And because the Toronto native likely won’t play on the outside in Winter’s system, he’s in a difficult fight with Williams and Ty Harden to team with Adrian Cann.
“Any other player I don’t think people would be making this big of a deal … because of the season I had last year, people speculate,” Attakora told the Toronto Sun prior to Saturday’s match.
I wouldn’t be pointing to the failures of last season in trying to make a case.
PARTING THOUGHTS
Looking ahead to the first leg of the Canadian Cup, Vancouver elected to rest a number of players Saturday night in a 1-0 loss at New England while the Reds fielded a strong 11 in search of points at home.
Looking to escape B.C. with a draw, or with an away goal advantage in a 2-1 loss, the Reds turn their attention to the first-ever all-MLS Canadian Cup match.
After bringing TFC to its knees in a 4-2 thrashing on opening day, the Whitecaps are winless in 10 league matches but are well-rested after throwing away their game with the Revolution
If the Reds can avoid conceding early in front of what’s sure to be a raucous Vancouver crowd, they’ll secure the needed result ahead of next week’s return leg. But if the ’Caps strike inside 10 minutes once again, Vancouver will look to push forward and render the return leg a mere formality.


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