TORONTO - It’s a game of mistakes, and the Reds now face the unnerving task of having to break through at the Home Depot Centre next Wednesday.
Despite jumping out to a dream 2-0 start last night, a pair of blunders looks to have provided the Galacticos a way back into the Champions League quarterfinal should they hold true to home form.
Making several quality saves at the start, TFC’s Stefan Frei fanned on an attempted punch that would have kept Toronto comfortably in front at half-time.
But in missing the crucial clearance, it’s advantage Galaxy as the visitors return home with two critical away goals — the first tie-breaker should the aggregate series end on level terms.
For all their improvements, Toronto still failed to hold a late lead when confusion on a corner allowed Landon Donovan to score from just metres out.
To his credit, head coach Aron Winter got the formula right.
The club looked explosive and comfortable lining up in a 3-4-3 with Ashtone Morgan and Richard Eckersley using the field’s width to threaten the Galaxy’s full-backs whenever Toronto regained possession.
The pair allowed Ryan Johnson to cut in centrally from his right-sided position and cause the untested centre-back pairing of Andrew Boyens and former TFC defender Todd Dunivant major problems.
As predicted, two untested back lines provided for a host of opportunities. Ty Harden remains the odd man out of an otherwise decent defence that is substantially better than a year ago. Sitting on the right side of a back three alongside Torsten Frings and Miguel Aceval, Irish international Robbie Keane consistently exploited the weakness and came close to putting the Reds in an even deeper hole on a number of occasions.
The surprise contributions of rookie Luis Silva and stand-in holding midfielder Terry Dunfield, who was on to replace a suspended Julian de Guzman, were two of the positives.
Silva stayed true to his quality pre-season while Dunfield surprised with his ability to hold possession and provide positive distribution.
A concern ahead of the return is how often the Reds became stretched from the 60th minute on. With Frings acting as a fifth defender when Toronto was without the ball, the Galaxy threatened in droves.
Heading into Wednesday’s fixture, Toronto must find a way to close the consistent gap that opened between TFC’s back five and midfield. Dunfield and Silva were layered most of the night, which provided Donovan and Mike Magee unlimited freedom.
It’s a result that feels like a loss. Heading into the match the club would have been thrilled with a 2-2 draw. But in allowing an equalizer so close to full-time, Toronto will be heavy underdogs to advance to the tournament’s semifinals next week.
It’s not the way most 23-year-old players start a career, but Luis Silva demonstrated why the organization selected him fourth-overall during January’s MLS SuperDraft — and why many early-season scripts have the west-coast product winning this year’s rookie of the year.
Playing in front of 47,658 Wednesday night, Toronto’s play-making midfielder showed the confidence and composure of a seasoned pro, instructing the Reds to calm down following a predictably frantic start against the highest-paid midfield in MLS.
Not typically the case with traditional No. 10s, Toronto’s newest addition showed a willingness to defend, breaking up a number of plays while connecting with winger Joao Plata on the left edge of the Galaxy’s box in the opening moments. His service eventually led to Plata earning the corner that broke the deadlock in the 11th minute.
Silva can finish too, proving his multiple-goal game during Toronto’s pre-season was no fluke.
After receiving a cross from Frings midway through the opening half, Silva’s side-net header from the penalty spot was a top-class finish anywhere in the world.
Danny Koevermans came close to providing something special in the 64th minute. Struggling to find the ball in the second half, the Dutch target drifted into midfield to collect a ball before attempting a half-field screamer that nearly caught the Galaxy’s Josh Saunders off his line … The Galaxy had five players that had appeared at a World Cup — David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Edson Buddle and Andrew Boyens — for the full 90 … No tickets? No problem. Many of the Rogers Centre’s hotel windows were wide open to knock up the capacity crowd a few dozen … And it was the largest crowd to ever witness a Cup match between two MLS teams … An otherwise educated audience failed to react when U.S. international Donovan made a questionable decision to play on when Silva took a knock 10 minutes from the break. After taking a hand to the face, Silva went to ground. As is typical in the game, the American elected not to play the ball into touch and instead took advantage of the 10-man Reds — something that almost saw the visitors pull level before halftime … The Reds face a difficult task in six days of travelling to California where the Galaxy has lost just one of its last 25 home fixtures, allowing just 13 goals along the way.