TFC needs to find way around second-half slumps

Toronto FC's Andy Iro is tripped up with New York Red Bulls' Dane Richards during Saturday's match....

Toronto FC's Andy Iro is tripped up with New York Red Bulls' Dane Richards during Saturday's match. (AFP)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:27 PM ET

TORONTO - Head coach Aron Winter’s post-match remarks are becoming repetitious at BMO Field.

“Winning 1-0 again, we give it up … It’s a pity.”

Something the dressing room is well aware of following a lacklustre 1-1 draw with New York on the weekend.

“For whatever reason, it keeps happening,” Ty Harden said.

Fatigue?

“I think it’s a lack of quality,” Winter told reporters.

Although most would agree with the Dutchman’s comments, it’s undeniable a certain tactical approach has cost the Reds points since the end of August.

Home draws to San Jose, Pumas and New York — all matches Toronto led in the second half — continue to highlight Winter’s tendency to replace forwards with defenders and concede large portions of the field at the end of matches.

“We have to get out of that kind of mind-set,” defender Andy Iro said. “You have to continue doing the things that you’re doing. We were pressuring them.”

That’s when Red Bull bench boss Hans Backe replaced Stephen Keel and Rafa Marquez — a pair of defensive players — with Juan Agudelo and Dax McCarty.

With the Red Bulls switching to an aggressive 3-4-3, Winter followed the tired old script in sending out a pair of defenders, forcing TFC to fall back into an all too familiar disorganized shell.

As it did a week ago against Pumas, replacing an injured Danny Koevermans and Ryan Johnson with two backs gifted the visitor’s overwhelming spells of possession during the final 20 minutes.

While it can be argued that both goals came as a result of loose marking on set pieces, it has to be said that the club wouldn’t have surrendered such a high number of restarts had it been able to manage more than 40% possession in the second half.

With Torsten Frings continuing to anchor Toronto’s back five, why does TFC continue to abandon first-half tactics in an effort to defend the lead those tactics did so well to provide?

“(It’s) annoying because (Toronto) keeps players wide,” goal-scorer Thierry Henry said. “They put the ball in the box and Koevermans is always a threat.”

But with that threat replaced early and often in the late stages, an already young and insecure back four can’t withstand the amount of pressure opponents produce when there’s nothing coming back at them.

“At certain moments, (we) are always making mistakes,” Winter said.

And while he talks of quality, there’s growing concern it might have more to do with game management.

I say it’s both.

PRESSING NEEDS

Should TFC win its CONCACAF match in Dallas, this off-season is shaping up to be the club’s most important to date.

With Winter acknowledging the Reds lack quality at the moment, there are numerous personnel questions heading into next year.

The club’s back four is far from set with Richard Eckersley’s future still up the air. The Englishman’s loan is set to expire, but he’s also the only back who has done enough to solidify a starting job. As Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams return from injury, the centre of TFC’s defence is anybody’s best guess.

Evident during Toronto’s 1-1 draw Saturday, the Reds need a third and fourth winger that can change a game domestically and in Champions League.

Saturday’s bench included Nick Soolsma, Demitrius Omphroy and an out-of-form Joao Plata — eligible substitutes that wouldn’t concern most reserve sides.

Finally, the club has to decide if it’s ready to move forward with Eric Avila.

With Frings and Julian de Guzman partnering in midfield, the Reds have to find an attacking midfielder that’s capable of providing a final pass every time out.

Although Avila was a massive upgrade over Jacob Peterson, does he have the quality to eventually meet the standard guys like Javier Morales, Mauro Rosales and David Ferreira have set around the league?

Toronto is said to be comfortable with the amount of cap space it has heading into next year.

AROUND THE PITCH

Dallas looks to be on the verge of collapse. The Hoops haven’t won a competitive game since Aug. 27 and are in jeopardy of falling out of the playoffs if they fail to secure a point tomorrow night in Chicago … Failing to score in their past four MLS matches, the Texans may have peaked at the wrong time. Good news for Toronto ahead of a big ask in the Champions League on Match Day 6 in Dallas … In terms of peaking, the L.A. Galaxy need just two points to secure this year’s Supporters’ Shield … Should the Galaxy win Tuesday at Red Bull Arena, the club would come the third team to win consecutive Shields … With one home match remaining, David Beckham and the boys are looking stay unbeaten at the Home Depot Centre in 2011 … It’s that streak that has the Galaxy poised to set a new record for points in a season. Currently even with the 2005 San Jose Earthquakes on 64 points, the Galaxy needs a draw from its three remaining games to beat the current record holders (post-shootout era) … At the opposite end sits the Vancouver Whitecaps. Winless on the road this season, the ’Caps sit on 22 points — eight better than the all-time worst 2001 Tampa Bay Mutiny … To be fair to the now defunct club, that season was cut short by the Sept. 11 attacks.


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