TORONTO - A costly second-half substitution put Toronto on its heels for an entire half during an unsettling 1-1 draw with Pumas at BMO Field on Tuesday.
The decision to change a productive Danny Koevermans at halftime looms large ahead of TFC’s final Champions League group stage match next month.
“Danny was a little bit tired,” head coach Aron Winter said. “I chose to bring in a 100% fit player … he was fatigued.”
The tactical switch saw the Reds fall into a 5-4-1 with Doneil Henry entering as a fifth defender for Koevermans — a setup that allowed the visitors to find an equalizer, and nearly a winner, early in the second half.
Changing Koevermans changed Toronto’s mindset. The early addition of an extra defender put the Reds on their heels for the remainder of the match and nearly punished them following an inspiring opening 45 minutes.
Was it the decision to play the Dutch target, and others, deep into the second half during a meaningless league match in Carson, Calif., days before?
“No...this league is very tough with all the travel,” Winter said. “I chose to bring on a fresh player.”
While Koevermans’ presence might not have prevented Pumas’ equalizer, it prevented the Reds from seeking insurance and stymied anything resembling a Toronto attack late in the game. Overexertion was clearly a factor and led to costly substitutions and tired legs.
When the Reds travel to Philadelphia for a league match just three days before their next Champions League match, critical roster decisions must be handled differently.
Tauro’s surprising midweek win over FC Dallas magnifies TFC’s disappointing draw.
“There are two sides — happy (and) disappointed,” Winter said. “Happy because we were missing a lot of players.”
Disappointed because TFC now faces the difficult task of travelling to Texas.
Had the Reds finished the job earlier this week, a draw against the Hoops on Oct. 18 would have been enough to progress.
“We still have control,” Winter said. “We have to win in Dallas — something we’ll think about in a couple of weeks.”
The Dutchman can rest a bit easier knowing Tauro’s result means the Reds advance if they secure three points in Dallas next month.
“Everyone has underestimated Tauro,” Winter said.
And without a final boost from the Panamanians, TFC would have needed to win and score two or more goals in the process.
AROUND THE PITCH
MLS clubs were a combined 3-1-1 in CONCACAF this week with the most unlikely result coming in El Salvador — a 3-1 win by a second choice Colorado side … Rapids manager Gary Smith failed to make an appearance during his club’s Champions League group match, sending a pair of assistants to handle Isidro Metapan. Blatant disrespect for the competition has some calling on the league or federation to discipline the third-year coach … The Seattle Sounders became the first MLS club to qualify for the Champions League quarterfinals. With the LA Galaxy dispatching Mexico’s Morelia on Wednesday, there’s a possibility a record four MLS sides could progress to next year’s knockout phase ... Since 2008, just four of 14 MLS clubs have advanced beyond the group stage … Five if you count Montreal. The Impact qualified for the knockout phase in the 2008-2009 edition. Set to join MLS in 2012, the league’s 19th franchise will hold an evaluation camp for its players next week … Canadian national team head coach Stephen Hart was in town to evaluate certain players of his own. Hart attended Toronto’s match with Pumas to monitor TFC academy product Ashtone Morgan ... Meanwhile, Richard Eckersley will continue to be monitored after suffering a hamstring injury in the second half Tuesday. TFC officials say there is no timetable for his return.
HART COMES CALLING
Morgan is one of six changes to Canada’s World Cup qualifying roster ahead of a pair of matches in St. Lucia on Oct. 7 and against Puerto Rico on Oct. 11 at BMO Field.
“The reality is that (Morgan) has been playing consistently,” Hart told reporters by phone yesterday. “His game shows maturity.”
The young left back has become a fixture in Toronto’s back line, relegating Danleigh Borman to the bench and catching the eye of those at the international level.
“I was in camp with (Canada’s) under-23 team and had the opportunity to work with him,” Hart said. “He has been playing consistently for TFC.”
Midfielder Joseph Di Chiara looks set to earn his first Canadian cap after emerging in the Russian Premier League. The 19-year-old Thornhill, Ont. native recently made his first-team debut with FC Krylia Sovetov Samara.
“(Di Chiara) did very well in the bits and pieces of matches I saw him in,” Hart said. “(He) looked composed, technically sound and kept the ball moving through midfield.”
With two wins through its first two matches, Canada sits two points clear of second-place St. Kitts and Nevis in CONCACAF’s Group D. Puerto Rico and St. Lucia occupy third and fourth place with one and zero points respectively.
The winner of Group D advances to the third round of qualifying against Honduras, Cuba and either Nicaragua or Panama.
CANADIAN WCQ ROSTER
GOALKEEPERS (2): Lars Hirschfeld (Vålerenga Fotball), Kenny Stamatopoulos (AIK)
DEFENDERS (6): Nik Ledgerwood (SV Wehen Wiesbaden), Ashtone Morgan (TFC), Kevin McKenna (FC Koln), Adam Straith (Energie Cottbus), Ante Jazic (Chivas USA), David Edgar (Burnley)
MIDFIELDERS (5): Julian de Guzman (TFC), Will Johnson (Salt Lake), Josh Simpson (Manisaspor), Joseph Di Chiara (Krylia Sovetov Samara), Terry Dunfield (TFC)
FORWARDS (5): Iain Hume (Preston North End), Simeon Jackson (Norwich City), Dwayne De Rosario (DC United), Tosaint Ricketts (FC Politehnica Timisoara), Olivier Occean (SpVgg Greuther Fürth)