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Toronto slips at home in battle of FCs

Posted on 04 August 2008 by Scott Ferguson

Kenny Cooper put Toronto FC to the sword on Sunday afternoon, scoring two late goals for FC Dallas to send John Carver’s side to their first Major League Soccer loss at home in 2008. TFC are falling fast after a great start to the season and now look likely to miss out on the playoffs unless they can turn things around.

Click here for our Dallas correspondent Phillip Woodruff’s take on Sunday’s game.

The sun was bearing down on BMO Field on a hot summer afternoon, fostering a sluggish start to the game from both sides. Toronto were taking the initiative through Rohan Ricketts and Jim Brennan’s overlapping runs down the left flank, but the FC Dallas defenders were able to keep goalkeeper Dario Sala from too much trouble in the early stages.

FCD coach Schellas Hyndman was forced into an early change in just the 6th minute, bringing in Michael Dello-Russo for midfielder Marcelo Saragosa, who was forced to leave the game with a calf strain.

The best chance of the first half came from Toronto’s centerback Marco Vélez, who found himself alone on the end of a Laurent Robert corner in the 19th minute but could only hit a bouncing shot straight at Sala.

Just moments later, Vélez made contact with Sala jumping for another corner, leaving the Dallas keeper winded and needing a few minutes, enough time for referee Baldomero Toledo to hand Vélez a yellow card. Replays showed that the contact appeared incidental at worst and hardly malicious.

The second half started lively, with both sides eager to make the breakthrough. Just after the hour mark, Bruno Guarda entered the game for Dallas and Tyler Hemming replaced Julius James in the Toronto lineup, instantly making his mark with several darting runs down the right flank.

It marked an interesting turnaround for the London, Ontario native, as Hemming had left the club earlier this season to pursue opportunites in Europe. With Jarrod Smith’s promotion to the senior roster, however, Hemming was able to rejoin the club as a senior development player and has made the most of that opportunity.

New signing Chad Barrett came close for the Reds in the 69th minute, collecting a headed clearance in the area and lashing a shot over Sala’s goal. The former Chicago striker appeared to have strained a calf muscle in the play and was substituted for Jarrod Smith after another lengthy delay.

The game’s real talking point came at the turn of the 79th minute, however. Kenny Cooper was looking for space on the left side when the whistle blew for an apparent off-the-ball incident in the 18-yard-box involving Amado Guevara and Pablo Ricchetti. Guevara sent the Argentine tumbling to the ground and was given a straight red card while Ricchetti tended a bloody nose.

photo credit: Chris Hazard

The foul took place in the penalty area, leaving FCD with an opportunity to take the lead from 12 yards. Cooper stutter-stepped to the spot and easily sent Sutton the wrong way, taking the lead and seemingly condemning 10-man Toronto to a first league defeat at home this season.

Toronto’s players were incensed with the call, with captain Brennan leading the protests and subsequently booked for dissent. Vélez contested another seemingly routine throw-in decision just minutes later too vigorously for Toledo, who issued the Puerto Rican his second yellow card, reducing TFC to nine men.

Amid coach John Carver’s protests, Toledo made his way to the sidelines and bizarrely sent off Toronto physio Carmelo Lobue.

Five minutes of stoppage time was greeted with ironic applause from the home fans, but their enthusiasm was short-lived as Cooper struck just seconds after the 90th minute mark. The free-scoring striker found space with two defenders ahead of him and struck a 30-yard shot at Sutton, who dove to his right but couldn’t keep out the bouncing ball.

Again, the Canadian goalkeeper looked as though he should have done better with the chance. The club’s recent streak may have dented Sutton’s confidence and could open the door for American prospect Brian Edwards to get the call in Colorado on Saturday.

Photo credit: Tim Drodge

Toronto’s ill-discipline may have done them in once again, but club captain Jim Brennan had other ideas.

“I think we’ve done alright, but the game got spoiled a little bit,” he said afterwards. “It was an entertaining game, we had them pinned in the second half there and we had a great chance, we felt we were going to score. Then, certain things happen and it wrecks the game, and that’s what happened today.”

FC Dallas defender and Canadian international Adrian Serioux had his own interpretation of events:

“It’s always good to come back and play in front of family and friends and get a result that we needed badly. You know it’s a great atmosphere and I’m sure the fans were behind their team, but when certain players on your team aren’t disciplined, as they were tonight, it’s costly, and that’s what happened to them.”

Coach Carver was reserved in his criticism of the officials, preferring to focus instead on the roster problems affecting Toronto.

“It’s frightening,” he told reporters after the game. “We only had 5 on the bench. There’s a reason for that, they’ve got to prove to me that they’re good enough to play and get on the bench… I think we might have to get (Academy coach and former Canadian international) Nick Dasovic to put his boots on!”

Carver refused to blame Barrett for the team’s scoring woes.

“He did some good things… I think he’s more of a poacher, he’s not a spectacular goal-man… The more he gets to know the guys the more he’ll get on, and I think he’s got goals in him. He needs to work on his fitness.”

With Sunday’s defeat, Toronto sit precariously in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, one point outside of the playoff reckoning with a game in hand over Los Angeles Galaxy.

The top two sides in each division will be seeded against the next-best four teams regardless of conference, leaving Toronto in a cross-division battle with the Galaxy, Chivas USA, Kansas City Wizards, Red Bull New York, Colorado Rapids and even outsiders San Jose Earthquakes for the last playoff spot. Just five points separate the eight-placed Galaxy from historical rivals San Jose in last place, who stole a 3-2 win over David Beckham and company on the weekend.

Toronto’s next chance to close the gap comes at Dick’s Sporting Goods park in Colorado on Saturday, a potentially must-win game for either side as they try to secure playoff action after missing out last season.

Match Facts

FC Dallas (6-6-7) vs. Toronto FC (6-8-4)
August 3, 2008 — BMO Field

Scoring Summary:
FCD — Kenny Cooper 12 (penalty kick [Ricchetti]) 81
FCD — Kenny Cooper 13 (unassisted) 90+1

FC Dallas Dario Sala, Drew Moor, Aaron Pitchkolan, Blake Wagner, Adrian Serioux, Andre Rocha (Bruno Guarda 64), Eric Avila, Pablo Ricchetti, Marcelo Saragosa (Michael Dello-Russo 7), Kenny Cooper, Dominic Oduro (Abe Thompson 74).

Substitutes Not Used: Andrew Daniels, Mike Graczyk, Jamie Watson, Chase Wileman

Toronto FC — Greg Sutton, Julius James (Tyler Hemming 65), Tyrone Marshall, Marco Velez, Jim Brennan, Rohan Ricketts, Amado Guevara, Carl Robinson, Laurent Robert, Chad Barrett (Jarrod Smith 70), Jeff Cunningham (Kevin Harmse 87).

Substitutes Not Used: Brian Edwards, Tyler Rosenlund

Misconduct Summary:
TOR — Marco Velez (caution; Reckless Foul) 27
DAL — Andre Rocha (caution; Reckless Foul) 57
TOR — Amado Guevara (ejection; Violent Conduct) 79
TOR — Jim Brennan (caution; Dissent) 81
TOR — Marco Velez (ejection; Second Caution) 84

Referee: Baldomero Toledo
Referee’s Assistants: C.J. Morgante; Adam Wienckowski
4th official: Jorge Gonzalez
Time of game: 1:56
Attendance: 20,247
Weather: Sunny -and- 77 degrees

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Soaring Crew visit BMO

Posted on 15 May 2008 by Scott Ferguson

Toronto FC and Columbus Crew will renew hostilities in the Trillium Cup on Saturday, with Toronto getting their chance to host their newfound rivals after a 2-0 loss in Columbus to begin the season on March 29th.

Since then, both sides have been in top form early this season after a momentary hiccup. Both sides lost their next match but Columbus have since recorded five straight wins while Toronto have gone on to a 3-1-0 record.

They’re not alone, however, with six of the seven Eastern Conference sides sitting at .500 or above. A win for Toronto on Saturday would put them five points back of Columbus at the league summit but with a game in hand and restore hope of winning the inaugural Trillium Cup.

The competition, which will be decided on the teams’ three regular-season encounters this season, will conclude later this season at BMO Field. If Columbus win the upcoming clash they’ll have an unassailable lead in the Trillium Cup standings despite facing another trip to Toronto on September 13th.

A win for the Crew would also represent Toronto’s first home defeat of the season. The draw with New York two weeks ago ruined an 100% record at BMO Field but John Carver’s men have yet to taste defeat since their home opener in April.

If the wheels are going to come off Columbus’ excellent league run, BMO Field may be the place for it. The typically buoyant home crowd will be in full voice on Saturday, with the burgeoning rivalry between both sets of fans exacerbated by the large amounts of Toronto fans who made the trip to Columbus earlier this year.

Injuries certainly haven’t helped Crew manager Sigi Schmid, with Duncan Oughton, Adam Moffat and Stefan Miglioranzi all sidelined for Saturday’s encounter.

Once again, Toronto aren’t reporting any injuries, a remarkable turnaround from last season and a testament to the physical training methods of the club’s new fitness coach John Winsper.

Joining the former Newcastle physio last week were staff members Nick Dasovic and Chris Cummins, reported on ASN last month and just recently made official by TFC.

One player that will hope to make a difference on the turf at BMO is Robbie Rogers, the most recent MLS Player of the Week based on his two goals in Columbus’ 3-2 win in San Jose last weekend. Argentine midfielder-forward Guillermo Barros-Schelotto was also on target for Schmid’s men, who will travel to Toronto as the team to beat in MLS.

With a clean injury list, Toronto’s selection dilemma lies in who to start up front. Danny Dichio has a goal to his credit this season but has been lonely up front in a 4-5-1 formation, and with four more games in two weeks following Saturday’s clash, Carver may be looking to reap the benefits of squad rotation.

Jeff Cunningham and Andrea Lombardo have been restricted to substitute appearances this season but could see starting time sooner rather than later, with Toronto balancing MLS play with their first Canada Cup appearance in Montreal on the 27th.

Amado Guevara, Rohan Ricketts and Laurent Robert are likely to reprise their roles as an attacking midfield trident for Toronto. None of the trio were TFC players yet during the club’s trip to Columbus in March.

Another new arrival has been defender Olivier Tébily, but the Ivorian has seen his playing time blocked by the stunning turnaround in Marco Vélez’s performances at the heart of Toronto’s back line. The Puerto Rican scored a free header against New York, with his own upturn in fortunes helping the club to a goals-against record of just 1 in their three home matches so far in 2008.

Between the sticks

Greg Sutton is set to start his fifth straight match for the club, having recovered from the trauma of being passed over in the early-season trip to Columbus in favour of draft pick Brian Edwards. The two straight clean sheets he recorded in the run-up to New York’s vist early this month pushed him past Kenny Stamatopoulos as the all-time shutout leader in Toronto’s short existence.

Crew stopper Will Hesmer

Will Hesmer has started every match for the Crew this season, conceding nine goals but making the difference on numerous occasions for his side. The 26-year-old made several important stops, including a penalty save, against Toronto in March.

A win against Columbus would improve Toronto’s home record to 3-1-0 ahead of another revenge mission next week, the visit of D.C. United to BMO Field in the last of a five-game home stand for Toronto. United were 4-1 winners at RFK Stadium in the second game of Toronto’s season, a match that marked not only Laurent Robert’s debut but Maurice Edu’s late consolation goal, a strike that seems to have marked a turning point for TFC this season.

Toronto FC vs. Columbus will kick off at 4 PM EST on CBC in Canada. Visit here for the Crew’s perspective.

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Red Bulls earn point in stalemate

Posted on 02 May 2008 by Scott Ferguson

Toronto FC started their third straight home match on Thursday night in the same style as they finished the last two, scoring early through Marco Vélez but conceding a first-half free kick that levelled the scores at 1-1. As the rain fell and the plastic pitch at BMO Field became more difficult to play on, each side looked increasingly content to play out the draw.

{democracy}


Red Bulls fans vote here.

With the home fans slowly streaming into the stadium to make the 7 PM kick off, made worse by the conditions and the resulting traffic around Toronto’s Exhibition Place, both sides struggled to assert themselves in the early stages.

The game came to life in the 20th minute when Jim Brennan was fouled on the left side of the penalty area. With Amado Guevara and Laurent Robert hovering, the New York defense looked unsure how to defend it. Robert sent in a curling cross, and Marco Vélez popped up at the far post unmarked to power a header past Red Bulls keeper Jon Conway.

His first Major League Soccer goal was proudly celebrated by Vélez, who faced criticism early in the season but has since shown signs that he can be a proven MLS defender in Toronto. The Puerto Rican has experience in USL-1 but has at times struggled to keep up to the pace of the opposition so far in his first season at the highest level.

Just as Toronto were beginning to play some free-flowing football in spite of the worsening conditions, New York struck. Reds defender Tyrone Marshall was adjudged to have handled just outside the box, with the visitors lining up the resulting free kick. As Guevara stepped in to help line up his defensive wall, Red Bulls fans may have felt a tinge of nostalgia at seeing the Honduran standing over a New York set piece.

All sentiment aside, Dave van den Bergh sent a left-footed strike into the only gap the Reds had left open. Greg Sutton was unable to stretch far enough to keep the low strike out of the back of the net.

Both sides pressed for a go-ahead goal in the first half, but the slick field made passing more and more difficult. Adding to that, New York lost their talismanic midfielder Claudio Reyna through a leg injury at half-time, replacing the former Rangers and Manchester City man with Sinisa Ubiparovic.

After the break, the most exciting moment of the second half came when Laurent Robert shoved Hunter Freeman to the ground after being fouled by Jozy Altidore. The French winger received a booking from referee Abbey Okulaja but was lucky to stay on the field.

As the match neared completion, it became apparent that New York were largely satisfied with a point and Toronto were increasingly powerless to stop them. Amado Guevara brought the home fans to their feet with a late volley after forcing a turnover from the Red Bulls defence, but the dipping strike fell right into the hands of Conway.

One positive from the performance for Toronto was their ability to contain the highly-touted strike force of Altidore and Juan Pablo Angel.

New York boss Juan Carlos Osorio was as vocal as ever in directing his players, but was unable to force much of an attacking impetus as the match went on. The Colombian’s side were the first to so much as score at BMO Field this summer, ending the home side’s 100% home record but leaving their unbeaten status intact.

Toronto will enjoy a two week break from action until May 17th, a home tie against Columbus Crew that will signify the start of five games in 14 days, including a trip to Montreal Impact on May 27th for the inaugural tie in the Canada Cup. Along with Vancouver Whitecaps, TFC and l’Impact will be hoping to secure the 2008 trophy and a resulting spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.

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TFC, new signings head to Hollywood circus

Posted on 11 April 2008 by Scott Ferguson

Toronto FC’s 0 and 2 start to the 2008 Major League Soccer season has some fans looking angrily back towards last year’s inaugural campaign, where they lost their first four matches going scoreless in the process. A 2-0 loss in Chivas last year was followed by a 4-0 rout in New England, and it was deja vu this year, with the club falling by a deuce in Columbus and looking set to lose by four at DC United. There was one crucial difference, however, as Maurice Edu popped up at the death to send a looping header past United keeper Zach Wells to make it 4-1 — a minor blip on the scoresheet, perhaps, but a moment that could resonate with the confidence of Edu and his TFC teammates.

Ahead of Sunday’s visit to LA Galaxy, Edu, who was last season’s rookie of the year, will be joined in the midfield by two new arrivals. Laurent Robert joined the club in time to take part in the DC loss and looked bright, but it was a case of being the best of a bad bunch against the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup semifinalists. Another attacking player, Amado Guevara, has been signed in time for the LA trip and is likely to slot in at the head of a five-man midfield with Edu and Carl Robinson behind him.

The Honduran midfielder, 2005 league MVP with New York Red Bull, has been playing in his native country with Motagua after falling out with Chivas USA management at the start of last season. While his temperament means that the top MLS clubs weren’t lining up to re-sign the enigmatic midfielder, the BMO Field faithful are hoping that a sold out stadium with a passionate fan base will bring the best out of Guevara. Until his signing, the club were lacking options in midfield, forced to play either a flat four or a five-man line with youngster Tyler Hemming in the center.

With the midfield set, the only question marks for the Reds relates to the starting positions at the front and back. Head coach John Carver will have to choose between Jeff Cunningham’s pace and Danny Dichio’s power at the business end of the pitch, while defenders Tyrone Marshall and Marco Velez weren’t at their best in Washington, conceding two goals in the first six minutes. The alternative, New Zealand international defender Andrew Boyens, doesn’t seem to have made an impression on Carver in preseason despite a fine 2007 campaign.
More signings could be on the way to Toronto. Former Birmingham defender Olivier Tébily has been spotted on trial in the Queen City having dinner with Robert. The French defender would offer much-needed stability to the back line, and will have been hoping to impress Carver along with fellow triallist Rohan Ricketts. The ex-Barnsley winger would fill a gap on the right side of TFC’s midfield.

For Los Angeles, starting a season with a healthy David Beckham is better than any new signing, although new arrival Carlos Ruiz has provided much-needed ammunition up front. Along with Landon Donovan, Beckham struck against traditional rivals San Jose Earthquakes last week to earn the club’s first win of 2008. LA will be looking to make it two wins from two at the Home Depot Center and pass the .500 mark after starting the season with a 4-0 loss in Colorado.

Each squad has one player who might have some inside information on the opposition. Canadian Kevin Harmse was a regular in Ruud Gullit’s Galaxy squad last season, the hard-tackling foil to Beckham and Donovan’s flair. He joined up with Toronto in the offseason, and while Harmse will miss out on the LA game after his ejection in DC, his knowledge of their tactics will almost certainly have been utilized by the TFC management. Striker Edson Buddle went in the opposite direction early last season, and much has changed at both clubs since his move, but he knows first-hand what it’s like playing alongside Danny Dichio and — from this brief spell in New York — Amado Guevara.

Much is at stake for both sides, with Toronto eager to enter their home opener on April 19th with at least one point in the bag. Finding a winning momentum early on could be the difference in TFC’s playoff hunt. For manager Gullit and his Los Angeles side, every home game means pressure to succeed in front of the HDC crowd and the world media. Much will depend on how quickly the Canadian club’s new signings adjust to life in their new surroundings, with a trial by fire awaiting them in LA.

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Looking ahead: TFC Season Preview

Posted on 25 March 2008 by Scott Ferguson

Fans of Canada’s sole Major League Soccer franchise may have been hoping for more firepower in their squad ahead of the 2008 season opener, but the truth is that the team has nowhere to go but up.

The 2007 campaign saw TFC finish at the bottom of the league standings but with unprecedented success off the pitch, regularly selling out BMO Field and setting a benchmark in fan support for the rest of the league. With their expansion-season woes behind them, the pressure will be on Toronto to improve on last season’s 25-point mark and to make their debut in the MLS playoffs.

TFC have a new head coach in respected English tactician John Carver and have improved in defence ahead of Saturday’s season-opener at Columbus, but even the most ardent supporter will tell you that their goals for 2008 are modest in comparison to established heavyweights like Houston Dynamo and D.C. United.

The Reds can look to another young club, Chivas USA, as a model for what they hope to accomplish in the coming seasons. In their expansion year in 2005, Chivas struggled and finished dead last in the Western conference. One year later, they had climbed to 3rd in the West and qualified for the playoffs. Last year they stormed to the top of their conference before again losing in the quarterfinals of the MLS Cup. This year, many pundits have identified Chivas as the team to beat in the Western Conference (see ASN’s Chivas season preview here).

Along with general manager Mo Johnston, Carver will be more keen to emulate Chivas’ model rather than that of another 2005 expansion side, Real Salt Lake, who just pipped TFC to 12th place in the overall standings last season. A strong performance on Saturday in Columbus would be the perfect way to start Toronto’s own ascendancy into the MLS elite, while a resounding victory in front of up to 2000 traveling supporters would be a great way to get the fans on Carver’s side.

Greg Sutton will wear the gloves for Toronto FC once again this season, and will be backed up by draft-pick Brian Edwards. Sutton had his critics at the beginning of 2007 but was often hung out to dry by a porous backline. Last season’s on-loan deputy Kenny Stamatopoulos returned to Tromsø I.L. in Norway, a club that has the distinction of being the northernmost top-flight team in world football.

TFC captain Jim Brennan and Todd Dunivant will alternate duties at left back and left midfield, with youngster Gabe Gala expected to build on his cameo appearances last season. For his part, Brennan was optimistic about the coming campaign in a discussion with MLSnet.com.

“I think we’re going to have a very good season,” he told the club’s official website. “We had a taste of MLS last year, and now we have our feet on the ground and we’re looking to take the next step of getting into the playoffs.”

In central defense, Tyrone Marshall and Andrew Boyens are joined by Puerto Rican Marco Vélez and draft picks Julius James and Pat Phelan. Marvell Wynne is expected to take up the right back position once again, and is set to terrorize his left-sided opposition throughout 2008 in between a trip to the Beijing Olympics with USA.

Midfield reinforcements have been recruited in the form of Tyler Rosenlund and ex-LA Galaxy hardman Kevin Harmse, while rumors persist about the status of Amado Guevara and triallists Martin Brittain and Victor Pacheco. In central midfield, Carl Robinson and Maurice Edu will be backed up by the new arrivals as well as youngsters Joey Melo and Tyler Hemming, while Trinidadian veteran Collin Samuel can be deployed on either wing.

Danny Dichio is virtually guaranteed a first-team spot with the club until his retirement, already having gained legend status with the opening goal, red card, and last goal of the 2007 season. Jeff Cunningham is likely to partner him up front, and if both men can stay healthy, the potentially lethal partnership could see Cunningham score his 100th MLS career goal. The American striker is currently four away from a century after just three goals last season, and accordingly, he’ll wear 96 as his shirt number for the 2008 campaign.

After supporting their team through thick and thin (mostly thin) last season, Toronto fans will be backing Cunningham to regain the form that saw him claim the MLS Golden Boot in 2006. With a strong 2008 the goal for everyone associated with TFC, the fans will hope that Cunningham’s biggest worry in a year’s time will be how to reflect 100+ goals in a shirt number.

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