Coming into a key showdown against the New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC knew they had their work cut out for them. They were facing a tough opponent on the road in a high-stakes game – a virtual six-pointer in the standings.
If that wasn’t enough, the defense had to contend with a world-class striker in French international Thierry Henry, who was making his home debut in a Red Bulls uniform.
In the end, though, it was a usual culprit – an anemic offense – that reared its ugly head to deny Toronto any points in a 1-0 loss Wednesday.
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“We were very unlucky not to get something,” TFC coach Preki told GOLTV Canada after the game. “I thought we were the better team, especially in the first 45 minutes. We had numerous moments where we could have done better that we could put one away, but we didn’t.”
Just two points behind New York in the Eastern Conference standings, the Reds had a golden opportunity to send a message and jump ahead into second place—a guaranteed playoff spot, come the end of the season—with a win.
Instead, their offensive woes continued with only two of 10 shots on target. But the problems don't end there as injuries threaten to exacerbate the problem.
After falling behind 10 minutes earlier, Chad Barrett left the game in the 32nd minute with a tweaked hamstring after pursuing a long ball down the right flank from Maksim Usanov. Barrett’s six goals in 17 games have already eclipsed his entire total from last year.
His loss, combined with the absence of Maicon Santos, who is out with a knee injury, deflated an already fragile offense that’s struggling to both generate and finish chances.
With six additional CONCACAF Champions Leagues games on the schedule starting Tuesday at home to Mexico's Cruz Azul, the situation threatens to spiral downward if the team’s sick bay gets too crowded.
Compounding the injuries is the revolving door of players coming and going due to suspension. Though defender Dan Gargan will be back for the rematch Aug. 21 in Toronto, Julian de Guzman will sit out for picking up his fifth caution.
With a shallow roster, Preki will have a tough dual management task of guiding the club through a successful CCL group stage campaign and an MLS playoff drive.
Luckily, he won’t have to worry much about the play of his back line. Despite missing Gargan, Adrian Cann, Nana Attakora and Nick Garcia were solid in containing arguably the league’s best one-two striker combination in Juan Pablo Angel and Henry.
Faced with covering the elusive Henry, Attakora held his own against the former Arsenal and Barcelona striker. Only a great individual effort by the Frenchman set the stage for the Red Bulls’ lone goal by Estonian international Joel Lindpere.
“He’s elusive, so you don’t know what he’s going to do next,” said Cann. "He drops into the midfield and receives the ball and opens up space for the other attackers up front … You have to take your hats off to the guy, he deserves respect."
The loss was a far cry from the 5-0 debacle at the hands of league-worst New York in the final game of last season that saw the Reds’ playoff dream crash.
But for the defense’s work in holding New York, the offense couldn’t respond in kind, though it had its share of chances.
Midfielder Jacob Peterson was more involved on offense than usual with two solid chances, but he couldn’t convert. Overall, the Reds failed to take advantage and seriously test goalkeeper Greg Sutton, making only his first start of the season, against his former club.
“We did have chances to level it or even to win the game, but we have to get more clinical in front of the net in terms of creating chances or finishing our chances,” TFC captain Dwayne De Rosario said. “I thought we did well as a team, as a unit. We can’t go into the locker room too disappointed.”
The loss of Santos and Barrett depletes Toronto up front and will seriously test the team’s depth. Until their return, Toronto will need the likes of Peterson, Nick La Brocca and O’Brian White to step up and help De Rosario on offense.
“It’s disappointing when you think that [TFC goalkeeper] Stefan Frei really didn’t have much to do all night," said Preki. “We really contained a very good and dangerous team and that was a positive for us and, hopefully, we can regroup and rebound and get a little healthier. I know we have a tough week next week and, hopefully, we can have some success.”