TFC salvages draw in preseason test

Toronto FC midfielder Torsten Frings tries to make a pass against FC Dallas defender Jackson during...

Toronto FC midfielder Torsten Frings tries to make a pass against FC Dallas defender Jackson during the first half of their MLS soccer match in Toronto July 20, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:07 PM ET

Ten days before Toronto is set to host the L.A. Galaxy in a Champions League quarterfinal, a close to full-strength TFC side earned a hard-fought, but shaky, 2-2 draw against Orlando City of the North American third-tier in Florida on Saturday night.

The home side’s Maxwell Griffin provided the game’s first chance in the 13th minute, receiving a pass from John Rooney that split TFC’s backs down the left. With newly employed centreback Miguel Aceval chasing, Griffin’s first touch took him in on goal only to have his attempt stopped by TFC’s Stefan Frei.

Minutes later, a poor debut from Toronto’s South American defensive tandem saw the Reds concede the opener after an Aceval turnover led to Geovanny Caicedo pulling down Griffin in the box. Rooney stepped to the spot to calmly roll the ensuing penalty to Frei’s left to grab an early advantage.

Failing to create any quality in front of goal in the first half, Toronto’s superior possession eventually led to the Reds equalizing before the half-hour mark. A restart 20-metres from goal would see Aceval’s attempt skip off a the wall and catch ‘keeper Miguel Gallardo leaning to make it 1-1.

Purported to have seen an upgrade over last season, Toronto’s back four would cost the Reds after the break when a floated ball easily cut TFC’s offside trap wide open. Second-half substitute Aaron Maund was caught too high, allowing James O’Connor to play Charlie Campbell in alone on goal.

Campbell’s unselfish pass across the box allowed Kevin Molino to make it 2-1 in the 54th.

The Reds would answer in the 63rd when Torsten Frings advanced into the penalty area before receiving a threaded pass from Terry Dunfeild from the top of the box. Frings’ lunging shot beat an onrushing Gallardo to make 2-2.

After exchanging goals, head coach Aron Winter would change seven players on the ensuing kickoff. As expected, the changes allowed Orlando to control things the rest of the way and come close to finding a late winner.

In the 71st minute, Dennis Chin beat TFC’s high defensive line only to have his one-on-one smothered by Frei.

Solidifying his resume to begin 2012 as Toronto’s No. 1, Frei kept things level in stoppage time, saving a close-range blast to preserve the draw.

RESTARTS

A year after falling at Vancouver in 2011’s opener, last night’s preseason match featured 10 new starters from the 11 that began last season ... With Danny Koevermans off early for precaution, Toronto’s inability to secure a secondary target, with Ryan Johnson away, was clear ... As Toronto’s possession in the final third rests primarily on a target and an attacking midfielder, who typically give time to the club’s wingers and outside backs to get forward, the Reds failed to create a shot on goal through the opening half ... And in failing to combine with Koevermans and Eric Avila, it prevented Ashtone Morgan and Richard Eckersley from joining the attack, one of the principle reasons the Englishman endeared himself last season ... The Reds fell victim to their own mistakes with Caicedo, Aceval and Morgan attempting to dribble out of trouble multiple times, eventually leading to the penalty ... Although a lower-division club struggled to capitalize on the chances Toronto’s back four served up, the Reds must settle their issues in time for Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle ... Less than two weeks from one of its biggest matches in club history, TFC’s lackadaisical pre-season schedule is an item of interest.

CAMP CHANGES

Last night’s match — other than a pair of closed-door friendlies with college teams — was TFC’s first competitive match of 2012, a vastly different pre-season schedule from 2011.

“There’s no exact way of going about (preseason),” TFC’s director of player development Paul Mariner said. “We want to be in decent shape, but we’ve got a long season.”

The decision to alter this year’s training camp came after last year’s squad travelled to three separate pre-season locations — Orlando, Charleston and Antalya, Turkey — and played eight friendlies before the start of the MLS season — an immense amount of travel that Mariner believes flies in the face of current “scientific” theory.

“If you go to Turkey, it’s a seven-hour time difference,” he said. “You would need seven days rest.”

So in an effort to stay fresh ahead of what could be the club’s busiest season to date, “it’s something that the coaches believe in,” Mariner reiterated.

What resulted was the decision to train for more than a month in the same time zone while playing no more than three professional pre-season exhibitions.

But with massive roster turnover heading into 2012, was now the proper time to scale down preparation with a host of new pieces?

“If you factor in that we’ve had five weeks of training, I think the answer is yes,” Mariner concluded.

But with the Reds clearly lacking the speed of play and confidence that can only be achieved through the accumulation of scenario matches, last night’s draw against a side the club really should have handled is unsettling.


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