Winter upset with Toronto's repeated defensive mistakes

Ty Harden and Simon Dawkins - August 27, 2011

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TORONTO — It was just too easy. A long throw-in, a headed pass, a shot and a goal from an unmarked player in front of the net.

Instead of a victory that seemed just minutes away, Toronto FC settled for a mere point after a 1-1 draw on Saturday night against the San Jose Earthquakes, a team that was in need of points as badly as Toronto.

In this case, the man left unmarked was San Jose's Chris Wondolowski, one of the top finishers in Major League Soccer, who scored an 87th-minute equalizer.

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TFC goalkeeper Milos Kocic, who has made the most of his chance while regular starter Stefan Frei has been coming back from a bruised knee, said it felt like a loss instead of a tie.

“It's been happening all season,” Kocic said after the match. “It's totally unacceptable the way we defend set pieces. It's just not how it's supposed to be happening. I don't know what to do. Like I said last time, maybe we should be focused, hold your man, don't let him jump. I don't know. I don't see a reason for sitting back."

Whether it's a corner kick or a long throw-in, defending on set pieces has proven to be a problem for Toronto FC. Although it was a throw-in that did them in against the Earthquakes, during this past Thursday’s 1-0 loss to FC Dallas in a CONCACAF Champions League Group C match, it was a corner kick.

It was an extension of the trend seen during MLS play, where Toronto have allowed seven goals this season off corner kicks. They have scored just one goal of their own off a corner.

The defending on set pieces is drawn up for the TFC squad members on a board, detailing who each player should cover. Too often, at crucial times, the assignments have been missed.

“A throw-in from an opponent, one of our guys is not marking his man and everybody knows what he has to do, and the game is given away so easily,” head coach and technical director Aron Winter said. “Two games, right behind each other, that you make exactly the [same] mistakes. Everybody can make mistakes but then you have to learn about it and don't do it anymore. That's why I don't like them and why I'm upset.”

Toronto FC have two weeks away from competition, although some like Canadian team midfielder Julian de Guzman will be playing international games. It was not a happy way to go into the break.

“Normally you should learn from these mistakes but when they happen over and over again, it's very frustrating,” de Guzman said. “It's hard to swallow. It's also important for each individual to take a look at themselves and ask 'how professional am I?  Am I ready for this?' These are crucial moments in any soccer game that can turn things around, and it always goes against us.”