The last TFC game I went to was against Montreal in the second leg of the Eastern Conference final late last November. It was a rainy, cold night in Toronto then, and for the season opener against Kansas City at the end of March, it was once again a cold and rainy night.
There was a buzz in the air just before kickoff, as the Reds had started the season undefeated with one win and two draws on the road and had the chance of a solid opening at home and to move top of the Eastern Conference. Fireworks and fans engulfed the stadium, followed by the raucous beating of drums and chants of “TFC…TFC…TFC”, amongst other songs.
In Canada, there is a sense of pride during the singing of the national anthem, and just like in November against Montreal, the fans took the liberty of singing “Oh Canada” themselves. The stadium was alight with passion and everybody was in good spirits despite the clammy cold. I was lucky to be gifted two tickets right at the corner flag next to the strong TFC fan contingent, and couldn’t have wished for a better experience (with the exception of the rain and the fact that my shoes and socks were already soaked before kickoff).
With the US Men’s team playing some recent international fixtures, it was interesting to see that Altidore started on the bench to make way for Tossaint Ricketts, while Bradley was central to TFC’s midfield with no additional rest. The academy prospect Edwards, along with Beitashour, would be pivotal in TFC’s interplay over the course of the match.
The match started with TFC a bit flat, and Sporting KC had the better of the opening minutes – even registering a shot on target before the Reds had touched the ball. SKC looked like they were passing the ball better in midfield but their application in the final third was missing. As time ticked on however, the home side started to create opportunities. Midfield dynamo Michael Bradley combined well with Jonathan Osorio and Victor Vazquez along with the wingbacks Edwards and Beitashour. Their interplay began to stretch SKC, almost as if they understood how to best to use their 3-5-2 to exploit the opposition’s 4-3-3.
From this point onwards, TFC began to dominate the play and had the better chances, with SKC breaking on the counter. TFC were incredibly wasteful however, and Osorio and Vazquez were particularly at fault as good interplay out wide provided them golden chances that went begging. Giovinco also missed some tap-ins as balls fizzed across the six-yard box without a finishing touch.
The Reds could well have been two or even three up at the half had they been more clinical in front of goal. The wet surface admittedly made some chances difficult, although others were simply unforgivable, like Osorio’s point blank shot that went wide.
As the second half began, I made it a point to note that the back line of Hagglund, Moor, and Zavaleta for the most part were quite solid and linked up well with Bradley. Between the posts, Irwin made a decent save before going off injured and his replacement Bono also made a crucial one-on-one save later in the second half to keep SKC out of the game.
It was mostly one way traffic however, with the Reds’ midfield firmly dictating the pace of the game. Ricketts was particularly wasteful in possession and was shrugged off the ball almost as easily as Giovinco. The fans let him have it. He did have a few breakaways in which he showed his value with his lethal pace, but ultimately in a game with SKC sitting back, it was only a matter of time before Jozy Altidore entered the fray with Ricketts coming off.
Altidore is an absolute man mountain, and with my seats being particularly close to the field, I was shocked at how nimble the guy is for a man of his size. It was a fantastic contest once Jozy entered the game and he held up the ball in dangerous areas to give TFC better possession and chance creation in the final third.
Sebastian Giovinco, however, was a bit of an enigma in this game. It has to be said that whenever he has the ball at his feet, you know there is a chance coming. It is a shame to see that he can very easily be pushed off the ball without a foul being given and this was a theme for most of the night. Whenever he did have the ball at his feet however, he was ridiculously efficient and usually did something influential with it, including ricocheting a free kick off the crossbar right in front of me that made me jump. As the game continued, frustration began to grow with the Reds’ fans as the 0-0 result became inevitable. There were a few chances for both teams before the end, but to no avail.
To summarize TFC’s home opener, it’s pretty clear that this team has picked up where they left off last season, with their record of one win and three draws to open the season. Better finishing could easily see them with two wins but it is a long season. I think one main takeaway from this game is that TFC need to improve their ball retention in the final third of the pitch. Perhaps the tactical contrast of having Altidore’s strength and Rickett’s pace could be an asset for Greg Vanney over the course of the season. I only wish Altidore had started this game however.
Edwards was lively at left wing- back and contributed to a lot of good build-up play. His positioning and trickery created a few chances for the Reds however during the final 15 minutes he could’ve been more efficient with his final ball. Should Vanney stick with his 3-5-2 system, you can expect Bradley and the TFC midfield to control most games.
All in all, a disappointing draw, but I’ve no doubt that the Reds will be back in the playoffs this season. COME ON YOU REDS!