TFC should go all out in Champions League

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:02 AM ET

TORONTO - When TFC hoisted its third-straight Voyageurs Cup, supporters urged head coach Aron Winter to take the club beyond the CONCACAF group stage — a chance his predecessor threw away in favour of a domestic playoff birth that didn’t come.

After falling 2-0 in Chicago on Sunday night, the club was quick to comment on the importance of its midweek Champions League match with FC Dallas — a competition that looks to have replaced Toronto's dreadful MLS campaign.

“You have to be optimistic,” Winter said. “You have to recover well this evening and tomorrow as well. Then we have to prepare for Dallas.”

And if his actions are any indication of the club’s direction, Sunday’s match may have been confirmation that Winter is setting the league aside in an effort to advance.

While the Dutchman has relentlessly said the Reds are out to win every match, Sunday’s game summary told a different story.

Needing goals in the second half, Winter replaced a Javier Martina with Nathan Sturgis and an exceedingly productive Julian de Guzman with a slumping Mikael Yourassowsky — substitutions that did little to push the game and appeared to be an attempt to rest players.

While Danny Koevermans picked up a slight knock in Panama on Thursday, the injury appeared minor and the Dutch target was likely left off Sunday’s bench in preparation for Wednesday.

With Terry Dunfield and Stefan Frei healthy but not called upon, it’s easy to say Winter was hesitant to deploy a full squad for a match that meant very little.

Although supporters should be encouraged by the club’s willingness to use precaution ahead of the Champions League, the defensive gaffes that continue to leak goals must be addressed if the club hopes to give fans a reason to be excited.

Game of mistakes

In a game that was dictated by mistakes, TFC couldn't shake bad habits in Chicago.

Sure, the Reds responded well in the second half, but in failing to convert excellent chances on the road, losing clubs are usually left talking about what could have been.

“I saw a lot of good things,” Winter said. “That’s football.”

But it doesn't have to be.

Chicago's first goal came as a result of Andy Iro — the Englishman wasn't close to being tight enough inside the area. The Reds went on to allow a restart to somehow bounce across the area to an unmarked Dan Gargan at the back stick.

Take away the goals and it was a fairly decent performance — an even game that produced an unfortunate result.

Still, the Reds won’t find success unless they start forcing opponents to work for quality chances.

Although weaker Champions League opponents don’t have the quality to punish imperfection, stronger MLS and Mexican sides will exploit the smallest of defensive mistakes in the coming weeks.

Aside from game-changing blown assignments in each half, Winter’s comments ring true.

“We played well even if we lost.”

Those words are becoming too familiar.

Quick kicks

With seven games remaining, the Reds need maximum points from six of those contests for a shot at the playoffs … Some of those wins will have to come on the road at Columbus, Philadelphia or Chivas — a lot to ask of a club that has yet to win away from home … Even in its expansion campaign TFC managed a win at Salt Lake … In terms of the 48 goals allowed in 2011, Toronto looks set to eclipse the record 49 goals the club allowed in 2007 … It seems past players are a big reason for that number. With Dwayne De Rosario netting a hat-trick and Gargan scoring against his former lads Sunday, should TFC be worried with San Jose in town Saturday? It was mid-July when the Reds sent Jacob Peterson, Nana Attakora and Alan Gordon west.

Off the pitch

While tired legs forced Winter to hold back Sunday in preparation for Wednesday's Champions League, FC Dallas travel to BMO Field with their own defensive woes.

After watching Zach Loyd hobble off injured in a loss to Seattle on Saturday, it appears the club's most influential defender is headed to England.

According to the UK's Lancashire Telegraph, Dallas accepted a bid from Blackburn to send George John across the pond.

After failing to score through 180 minutes against the Hoops in league play this year, the potential absence of Loyd and John could open up a Dallas defence that has managed to hold TFC to just eight shots on target in 2011.

Defensive questions

The Reds must push Wednesday's match against what should be a Dallas defence that should be somewhat unfamiliar with one another.

But the question remains whether Winter will finally move Torsten Frings back into a more influential role in midfield rather than keep him pinned in an experiment that hasn't worked — the Reds continue to concede bad goals regardless of the German’s defensive presence.

In pushing Frings into midfield, Winter might drop an additional player into the centre of defence in moving to a more recognizable 4-3-3 Wednesday.

The Dutchman might put his trust in a central pairing consisting of Ty Harden and Dasan Robinson to allow Frings to be as influential as he used to be in games.


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