With Toronto FC’s second match of the season now in the books, it’s fair to say we’ve been introduced to the two possible extremes very early in a season. We have seen just how capable this team is at dictating the play and their level of composure while leading in the final minutes, and just one week later, we’ve now seen just how flat, disjointed and poorly motivated they can be…in a match against a rival no less.
The most alarming fact of Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Columbus wasn’t just the scoreline or how much worse it could’ve been, or how referee David Gantar once again swung the match in favour of Toronto’s opponent. The most worrying thing that could be taken away was how sloppy and unmotivated this team appeared to be, knowing full well that several busloads of travelling support accompanied them for this first match of the Trillium Cup derby.
From the moment the match kicked off, the Crew were the dominant side, controlling possession and leading in goal scoring opportunities by a large margin. If it wasn’t for some early game heroics by Joe Bendik, and a very helpful cross bar and post, this game could’ve easily turned into a blowout. Although the Crew were taking the game to TFC, the Reds were able to repel any and all attacks, even if it came down to the keeper shutting the door.
Then referee David Gantar took over, or rather, his linesman did.
For those who don’t know who David Gantar is or know why he is so infamous around TFC circles, he is a Canadian MLS referee who single handedly stole 2 points from the Reds last season when they desperately needed them and was also the whipping boy Michael Bradley bashed, claiming the quality of refs in the league was “just not good enough.” The comments resulted in a fine from the league regardless of the fact that Don Garber himself apologized for Gantar’s blown call.
It was a textbook tackle, and one that any defender would be proud of. Anyone with the gift of vision could see it.
Toronto’s defensive line was breached, resulting in an Ethan Finlay near breakaway. Defender Justin Morrow was able to track Finlay down and his perfect sliding tackle won the ball cleanly. Finlay sold his case to Gantar, but Gantar was forced to discuss it with his linesman. To the surprise of everyone, he issued a red card to CB Damien Perquis instead of Morrow. This was later corrected and Morrow was sent off for an apparent last-man-back “wreckless” tackle.
What this situation proves is that, although protocol was being followed by consulting with his linesman, neither official saw the play well enough to make a proper call on it, evidenced by the fact that Gantar initially sent off the wrong player! This was not a situation of the referee and linesman being in agreement and just making sure they were on the same page. This call was a guess. The question I find myself asking is, knowing full well how things ended the last time Gantar was faced with a tough decision to make against TFC, why would he take the radical step of sending a player off in a derby match when neither he nor his linesman were in a position where they could definitively make the appropriate call? It was absolutely baffling.
Nevertheless, the call was made and TFC was down to 10 men with a half to play.
Starting the second half, Coach Vanney had a couple of difficult decisions to make. Down a man and having Steven Caldwell suffer an injury, Vanney opted to substitute Jonathan Osorio and Caldwell for young defenders Ashtone Morgan and Nick Hagglund. It didn’t take long for the Crew to exploit the inexperience of the current backline. A header from Justin Meram and a tap in by Kei Kamara 4 minutes apart gave the Crew a 2-0 win.
Toronto’s strength in attack that they so awesomely demonstrated in Vancouver was nonexistent in Columbus. Neither Altidore, nor Giovinco really had anything going their way. There was no connection, no service, no nothing. It was as if the team hadn’t trained since their win over the Whitecaps.
Make no mistake about it, I hope that was a humbling experience because no one, and I mean no one, should be making excuses about this loss.
Judging by the way they played the first 45 minutes, having a full 11 men for 90 minutes wouldn’t have mattered, although having 10 just seemed to hurry the inevitable.
Columbus played as a team and was creative in their attack. Toronto, namely Giovinco, played like a group of individuals, and we all know that’s not how you win games in this league or in sports in general. It was also pretty disheartening seeing Warren Creavalle time and again get burned down his own wing and be caught largely out of position on multiple occasions; the 2nd goal was a direct consequence of that.
Moving forward, Coach Vanney will need to get all his players on the same page once again and reignite the passion they played with in Vancouver. The road doesn’t get any kinder to TFC, especially considering that after their bye week, they will be taking on RSL in Salt Lake City, followed by Chicago and Dallas. The Reds will need to retool their lineup now considering Morrow (barring a successful appeal of the red card) will be suspended, Caldwell possibly being injured, and Creavalle being a glaring weak spot in the backline. I would also imagine that we will see Mark Bloom make his first appearance in the starting XI, as well as Ashtone Morgan possibly getting his first start in place of the suspended Morrow. If Caldwell is still injured heading into game 3, Nick Hagglund will be his most likely replacement. The prospect of Damien Perquis having to babysit the backline the way Caldwell did for large portions of last season should send shivers down the back of TFC supporters.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the time for on the job training, regardless of how early it is in the season. Everyone wearing a red jersey knows exactly what is at stake.
(image courtesy of AP)