March 8, 2012
Galaxy, Toronto FC deserved their draw
By KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency
TORONTO - The Reds opened Wednesday night’s Champions League quarterfinal seemingly miles ahead of the heavily favoured L.A. Galaxy.
Feeding off the energy from the more than 47,000 in attendance, TFC looked dangerous on the counter with Joao Plata and Richard Eckersley giving the visitor’s outside backs serious problems early on.
For a good portion of the first half, it was the best the club has looked heading into its sixth year.
“If you saw the whole game, we were unlucky,” head coach Aron Winter said following Wednesday’s match. “We were the better team.”
That depends on who you ask.
In an interview with ESPN, U.S. international Landon Donovan offered a very different match report on his way out of the Dome.
“It would have been a little bit cruel leaving (here) losing 2-1,” the Galaxy captain said. “We had a number of chances and on a different night could have scored four or five goals.”
Although both comments are exaggerated, Wednesday’s match can easily be divided into thirds. The Reds shocked the MLS champions during the first 30 minutes while the Galaxy controlled the final hour — and could have equalized long before Donovan’s late silencer.
Which speaks to a larger issue.
Toronto’s fitness was of interest heading into the match. Many of the players in TFC’s first 11 had yet to complete a full 90 minutes during an extremely tame pre-season. Moreover, the Galaxy looked fresh throughout and gathered more confidence as the game progressed — something that could be attributed to the visitors playing triple the number of pre-season games.
Throughout the second half, David Beckham received little pressure when he dropped deep to threaten TFC’s back four with repeated diagonals. Along with Robbie Keane, the Galaxy’s wide players had ample space to collect and cut in on a warn down defence that consisted of five defenders and a roaming Terry Dunfield.
In a system that demands an extreme amount of tracking from its wide players, the inability of Plata and Ryan Johnson to constantly retreat late in the match offered Donovan, Keane and Mike Magee the space they needed to threaten Stefan Frei.
Fitness and formation will be the items of interest on the training ground this weekend as the Reds appeared stretched late in the first leg.
Although Donovan is right to insist the visitors could have tacked on a few more after the break, scoring just one in the return will likely be enough to secure passage.
Wednesday’s Jamaican officiating crew didn’t deserve half the criticism it received.
“This CONCACAF referee … (was) a joke,” Danny Koevermans said while discussing a caution he received for a second-half scuffle. “He gave me a yellow card for my reaction … He should have given (the L.A. player) a yellow card too.”
Although there’s an argument to be had, it’s not a significant one. Other than a non-call on the edge of the penalty area when L.A. ‘keeper Josh Saunders appeared to handle the ball outside the box in the second half, the officials in no way changed the complexion of the game.
Mistakes, not calls, led to the Galaxy being all smiles when the club left the Rogers Centre late Wednesday night. And in a tale of two very different halves, the 2-2 final was more than fair.
While the region’s officials are often under the microscope, the focus should be on what the Reds did and didn’t do to allow the Galaxy a way back.
The decision to bring on rookie Aaron Maund in the moments preceding the game-tying corner was questionable. Maund lost Donovan inside the penalty before the American tucked home the equalizer.
It’s important to the integrity of the game to keep refereeing crews on a short leash, but not after they’ve done an adequate job of staying out of the proceedings.
AND ANOTHER THING
Those that have followed MLS clubs since 1996 note the dwindling number of nonsensical pundits who routinely slam the league and sport.
Look no further than Canadian sports radio personality Bob McCown, who before Wednesday’s match undressed the sport by questioning the “morons” in attendance — a pretty uninformed viewpoint from a highly regarded figure that has made a living commenting on North American sports.
But pundits like McCown will continue to disappear as the game enters a new era within the U.S. and Canada. It’s a statistical fact.
According to ESPN, soccer now ranks second in terms of favourite professional sports among teenagers in the U.S. If it already isn’t second to hockey in Canada, it will be soon. Yet McCown and those like him are extremely defensive when it comes to opening up about soccer’s exponential growth.
To some of the most powerful voices in the business, why isn’t there room for an additional game to join the sporting landscape? Can almost every other nation outside North America be wrong when it comes to the Beautiful Game?
The hardest thing to comprehend is McCown’s divisiveness against a sport his company is currently investing in. Sportsnet has become a quality leader in terms of Toronto FC and Canadian national team broadcasts — something they might want to inform him of.