TORONTO - San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski left the Earthquakes’ dressing room with a grin and a laugh following a convincing 3-0 win in Toronto Saturday.
“I almost had about four,” said Wondolowski, who smiled when reminded of his current goal streak in Toronto. “I’m a bit disappointed because I should have had more.”
Capitalizing on a timid and confused start by the Reds, the U.S. international opened the scoring 10 minutes in after rising to meet a Sam Cronin cross just metres from the goal.
After Shea Salinas doubled the advantage coming out of halftime, the league’s 2010 Golden Boot winner added to his BMO account in the 67th minute when he punished soft marking by a Toronto defence that looked beyond disoriented without an injured Torsten Frings.
“You can always lose a game, but the way we began wasn’t good,” head coach Aron Winter said. “It was like we didn’t want to play.”
Wondolowski nearly bagged his second hat-trick in three visits to Toronto when an open look minutes from full-time came back off the post, keeping the final score slightly more respectable.
Failing to create any real chances into a gusty wind during the first half, Toronto’s issues extended throughout the field Saturday.
Entering for Terry Dunfield before the start of the second half, a normally clinical Danny Koevermans made a mess of an early breakaway that should have seen the Dutch target change the game in favour of the Reds.
And after scoring in each of Toronto’s previous three matches, Ryan Johnson fanned on a sitter in the 70th minute that ended any hope of the Reds rehashing the promising form the club began 2012 with.
“We learned a lesson today,” Johnson said. “It’s a little bit of immaturity on our part. We’ve got to be switched on from the beginning … Once the whistle starts we have to be men out there and take care of our responsibilities.”
With defensive lynchpin Frings injured, Winter’s decision to move Toronto away from its more comfortable five-back defensive setup punished the club from the first minute.
Playing without a sweeper between them, the central tandem of Ty Harden and Miguel Aceval was split open early and often, leading Winter to change Harden midway through the second half in favour of rookie Aron Maund — an embarrassing change for the veteran whose time at the club has been littered with criticism and early exits.
But with Toronto’s defence vulnerable even with its German captain organizing, the risk associated with reducing numbers across the club’s back line was a poor decision that needs to be amended before Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal against visiting Santos Laguna.
“For the moment (Frings) isn’t available to play,” Winter said, when asked about the club’s obvious defensive woes. “We’ll try to resolve the problems. It starts in the midfield from not following our man … there were a lot of things that we didn’t do well.”
Aside from the club’s ever-changing system, removing a very active Dunfield at the start of the second half killed the rhythm in Toronto’s midfield. Electing to continue the match with a stagnant Julian de Guzman produced little going forward as well as in defence — something Winter refused to comment on during his post-game conference.
“Today most of us didn’t play well,” he replied. “I don’t want to assess single players. It was not a good game from our side.”
In an early-season stretch of home matches against clubs the Reds should compete with, Toronto’s slow league start is a concern ahead of a much more difficult portion of its schedule this summer.
With four of its first six league matches coming at BMO Field, failing to reach double digits in points before May will likely end the club’s already fading chances of achieving its first playoff berth.
“We need somebody who can organize everything on the pitch,” Winter said. “It’s completely different with Torsten (Frings).”
But after entering 2012 knowing the club desperately needed an immediate fix in defence during the off-season, the front office’s decision to all but ignore a critical portion of the field could deny Toronto supporters post-season soccer yet again.