Everyone knew Preki would need thick skin to withstand the demands of Toronto FC fans and the second-guessing of the media.
Now add to that a litany of mental errors and poor decisions which the coach will also need to address following TFC’s third loss in four matches.
They spoiled what was otherwise a decent performance by the Toronto FC defense in the Colorado Rapids’ 3-1 win at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Colorado’s last two goals both came on errors.
Toronto midfielder and Canadian international Julian de Guzman unwittingly jumped out of the wall to block a free kick by Jeff Larentowicz in the second half. The ball slipped through the gap and by helpless goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Minutes later Reds defender Maksim Usanov committed a silly foul, taking down Rapids forward Conor Casey in the penalty area. The American international then found the back of the goal for his second goal of the game and third of the season.
These mistakes were back-breakers, but there were plenty more – surely too many for Preki’s liking and way more than a team can afford when trying to win on the road.
Errors aside, the ingredients were all in place for another loss. Toronto was coming off a home game just three days earlier and entering high altitude without a proper acclimatization period. Combined with a set of defenders that is still growing used to one another made for a dicey situation.
But the TFC defense acquitted itself fairly well in bending, but not breaking in the face of Colorado’s first-half pressure. Time and again it denied the Rapids from executing their outside-inside game of crosses and diagonal runs.
Preki should be pleased with his back line’s play, when taking into consideration the recent wholesale personnel changes.
Colorado tried to exploit Toronto’s defense, but couldn’t crack it with the finishing chance, creating visible frustration for the Rapids’ frontmen. Colorado broke through in the 23rd minute with a penalty-kick goal, but it was more a case of bad luck than a breakdown. Former Rapids draft pick Adrian Cann was called for a hand ball after slipping while challenging the Rapids' Jamaican international forward Omar Cummings.
Besides the needless mistakes, what should also irk Preki is the team’s inability to methodically work the ball up field with any effectiveness or sense of purpose, especially in the first half. The problems that afflicted Toronto in the first half against Philadelphia reared their ugly heads again.
The Reds committed numerous turnovers allowing Colorado to outpossess them 60 percent to 40 percent in the first half. De Guzman, Toronto’s midfield general and designated player, is known for his ability to hold midfield and dictate play but was largely ineffective.
Integrating a team with a host of new players is enough of a challenge, but mental toughness and in-game smarts are things that are not so easy to coach. Being able to establish them for a full 90 minutes seems like a pipe dream right now.
Until Toronto can get mentally stronger and play with more discipline, no amount of lineup tinkering will help Preki check off that item on his list anytime soon.