Toronto FC 2 – Sporting Kansas City 1
The Prelude to Battle
Fresh off a strong and encouraging display against a highly favoured Whitecaps squad last weekend In Vancouver, Toronto FC went into their 2013 home opener at the Rogers Centre on Saturday against an even more formidable opponent in Eastern Conference giants Sporting Kansas City.
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Toronto entered play on a league winless streak that had been extended to 15 games with their season opening defeat to Vancouver and that dated back to July 28th of last season, three matches away from the all-time MLS record set by Real Salt Lake in 2005-2006.
Entering play coming off a 3-1 victory in their season opener at Philadelphia, Sporting Kansas City came into this match on a much more positive streak, with the team now undefeated in 13 straight MLS regular season matches dating back to the 2012 season, one shy of the all-time club record.
TFC Head Coach Ryan Nelsen made only one change to his starting eleven from the side that opened the season in Vancouver, with newly signed attacking midfielder John Bostock taking the place of rookie Kyle Bekker.
The Opening 45
Following some literal fireworks just after the playing of the national anthems, this one kicked off with some early fireworks on the pitch. Toronto forward Robert Earnshaw opened the scoring in only the 3rd minute of play, as he snatched a poor pass from Kansas City defender Matt Besler and delivered a clinical finish that beat keeper Jimmy Nielsen to give the Reds their first goal of the 2013 season.
The Reds looked very strong and organized defensively through the first thirty minutes, with Sporting enjoying their fair share of the possession but unable to generate any significant scoring opportunities.
Newly acquired attacking midfielder John Bostock made an almost immediate impression when he displayed some fancy footwork and was pulled down in the Kansas City box in the 20th minute. On the ensuing penalty kick, Earnshaw made no mistake in beating Nielsen to put the home side up 2-0.
Kansas City continued to move the ball effectively for the remainder of the half, but Toronto got the job done with solid team defence both on dead ball situations and in open play.
||I like how Morgan plays the ball like that. He looked back, looked for opportunity FIRST and realizing no chance, plays it for safety.
The Second Half
It was all Kansas City in the second half, as the visitors dominated possession and made an impressive run to get back into the game.
Sporting almost scored in the 61st minute when substitute C.J. Sapong redirected a corner kick off the crossbar with his head.
Kansas City came at Toronto in waves for the entirety of the half, but struggled to generate chances from open play and break down a TFC team defence that was organized and engaged, often playing with ten men behind the ball.
Sporting pulled one back in the 77th minute on a goal by Kansas City Designated Player Claudio Bieler, but could not find an equalizer, as Toronto held on for a well deserved win.
At the press conference following the match, TFC Head Coach Ryan Nelson was quick to credit his players for the mental strength and character they showed in delivering a much needed home win.
“I think for the whole club there have been a few mental scars over the past couple of years. To grind out a result like that, you needed mental strength and character. The guys showed that in abundance. That is a very good Kansas City team and, to hold out when they had a lot of adversity thrown at them, they showed a lot of strength and character,” said Nelson.
Striker Robert Earnshaw indicated his happiness with the win and described his approach with respect to scoring the second goal via penalty kick.
“I was very happy about it because I changed my mind right at the last minute because I just saw the goalie take a step and it was nice because I was thinking of going to that side and I just changes my mind the last minutes. Overall I think it’s just a day I think we can all celebrate because there was a lot of hard work there, a full team effort,” said Earnshaw.
Defender Darren O’Dea was quick to credit Nelsen and indicated his belief TFC are on the right track towards becoming a team that is hard to play against.
“The gaffer has come in and right away he has added an identity with respect to how he wants us to play. And the players have bought into it straight away and we’ve improved during the nine weeks that we have been together. We’ll continue to improve. We’ve still got a long way to go to get to where we want to be,” said O’Dea.
The Final Word: A lot to like about TFC’s performance (and one thing not to like)
It’s hard not to like the manner in which Toronto competed in this match and grinded out a result against one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. In fact, in hindsight, it’s not a major stretch to see that the seeds for this win were planted in Toronto’s season fairly impressive opening loss to Vancouver last weekend.
As was the case last week, Toronto was defensively organized and sturdy for the majority of the match and had a clear game plan that the players delivered with tactical efficiency. On this day, the Reds also took advantage of their chances in their opponent’s side of the pitch, with Englishmen Robert Earnshaw and John Bostock looking very much like players who will have the capacity to be difference makers for TFC going forward. In fact, it is a little bit hard not to imagine the possibilities of what this team might look like with the addition of an in form Danny Koevermans and say a young Designated Player playmaker from Argentina.
While Toronto was dominated and put back on their heels for pretty much the entirety of the second half, it was nonetheless encouraging that the team was able to hold off a quality side like Kansas City and grind out the result. This was exactly the type of match that the Reds routinely lost or drew last season, usually on a late game defensive breakdown. The fact Toronto were able to hold on under relentless pressure was probably the most encouraging aspect of this game from a TFC standpoint.
In terms of key players, Earnshaw and Bostock were standouts. That said, this really was a total team effort with every Toronto player playing an important role in the victory. Joe Bendik was once again solid as a rock between the sticks and Darren O’Dea, Danny Califf and Richard Eckersley all delivered excellent performances on the back line. In the midfield, Terry Dunfield delivered some important defensive plays and Jeremy Hall was much improved compared to his somewhat anonymous performance against Vancouver last week.
If there was one especially disconcerting aspect of Toronto’s play on this day it came on Sporting Kansas City’s goal, as Danny Califf looked out of play and focused on arguing a yellow card call versus getting back in position to mark eventual goalscorer, Claudio Bieler. That is the type of mistake that good teams do not make and it was glaring on a day in which it was hard to find fault with Toronto otherwise.
Toronto FC Lineup
12 Joe Bendik
27 Richard Eckersley
3 Danny Califf
48 Darren O’Dea
5 Ashtone Morgan
19 Reggie Lambe
23 Terry Dunfield
7 John Bostock
25 Jeremy Hall
31 Hogan Ephraim
10 Robert Earnshaw
Substitutions: Jonathan Osorio in for Terry Dunfield (82’); Darel Russell in for John Bostock (85’); Kyle Bekker in for Hogan Ephraim (87’).