TORONTO – With a little luck, it could have been a second win in a row for Toronto FC.
Instead, they settled for a 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls, who are 22 points ahead of them in the standings. In the process, Toronto proved they are no pushovers despite occupying last place in the East.
“I think what you can recognize a little bit is that it’s not beautiful flowing football, but we are a little harder to beat than we have been in the past,” said head coach Paul Mariner, who took over from Aron Winter on June 7.
The Reds have only lost once with Mariner, 2-0 to Sporting Kansas City in their first game under him. They have gone undefeated since and are 1-1-3 overall with the Englishman, who has made it a point to simplify things for the players with a 4-4-2 formation replacing the 4-3-3 favored by Winter.
“I think that if you become a hard team to beat in this league and you stay in the game, Ryan [Johnson] and Danny [Koevermans] and Torsten [Frings] with his service -- you might be able to nick something,” Mariner said.
Highlights: TOR 1, NY 1
In fact, Toronto generated a fair share of chances, but it was the progress shown by TFC's defenders on Saturday that gives reason for hope.
“The young back four are learning, they’re learning very quick,” Mariner said. “I thought that was the best performance of the back four today. They edged when they should edge, they were dropping when they should drop.”
The manager praised the work of left back Ashtone Morgan in particular against the dangerous Dane Richards. He also highlighted the resilience of right back Jeremy Hall, who came back after being kicked in the face in the 3-0 midweek win at Montreal.
The Reds were forced to do without young center back Doneil Henry, who was left off because an allergic reaction, and midfielder Julian de Guzman limited to a substitute's role because of illness that required a late lineup change.
“Reggie [Lambe] comes in on a moment’s notice, works really, really hard,” Mariner said. “I’ve got nothing but praise for those lads. It’s staggering the amount of work they do from front to back.”