New coach, new sense of purpose ... same result.
A reinvigorated Toronto FC came out looking to get the Nick Dasovic coaching era off to a winning start.
In the end, however, Dasovic could do little to stop the defensive breakdowns, undisciplined actions, lack of finishing and non-calls that led to Toronto’s 4-1 loss Wednesday to Real Salt Lake in a key CONCACAF Champions league match in Utah.
It was Dasovic’s first loss as interim head coach after he took over from Preki, who was released Tuesday along with the team's director of soccer, Mo Johnston.
“We left Toronto with all the turmoil of the coaching changes, and we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for stuff, but that is not an excuse because we have been together for a while," Dasovic said.
The result kept RSL’s unbeaten streak in all games at home intact at an amazing 27 matches and, undoubtedly, makes Toronto wonder whether they can turn things around with just three CCL and six MLS games left.
Maicon Santos’ goal snapped Toronto’s five-game goalless drought, but it was a small consolation for a defeat that puts Toronto FC at a minus-three goal differential and in the unenviable position of trying to make up ground on the road against a dominant Cruz Azul.
Games like this aren’t supposed to happen this way. Often, when a new coach takes over struggling team, the side is motivated by the change. Often, the team goes out and wins one for the new coach.
It’s an archetypal storyline and one that looked like it would play out when Toronto capitalized on Nate Borchers’ turnover in the eighth minute to take the early lead.
Two more great scoring chances minutes later gave that further credence. However, the lack of finish on both plays made it feel as though the demons were back.
"We had an early goal and [O’Brian White] has a few chances to put one in, and within the first 10 minutes I think we could have been two or three [goals] up," Dasovic said. "Our goal in the first half was to keep it tight and frustrate them a bit. Then we gave up two goals on set pieces and you just don’t do that.”
A defensive breakdown led to RSL’s tying goal when nobody marked Kyle Beckerman on Andy Williams' corner.
How can anyone miss those dreadlocks?
“When there is a set piece it looked like the organization was so slow," Dasovic said. "Is it because they are fatigued? Is it because of all that has happened? I don’t know, but it is something that we have got to get our finger on. You can say it’s this or it’s that but it all leads to goals for [Real Salt Lake].”
Then bad luck came calling. First the referee missed a hand ball that could have given TFC a penalty and a chance to extend the lead. Then one of the assistant referees missed what appeared to be four RSL players in an offside position on a Williams free kick that led to Jamison Olave’s eventual game-winning goal.
It didn’t end there.
Alberto Garcia Ferrer Martinez (Mista), one of former Johnston’s high-profile reinforcements, got red-carded for a silly shot from behind on Beckerman just six minutes after entering the field as a sub.
It put Toronto in an unnecessary hole and quashed any chance of a comeback.
Nick Garcia, the elder statesman on defense, then brought down Canadian international Will Johnson in the penalty area on the type of risky challenge that veterans aren’t supposed to take. That forced a penalty, which Alvaro Saborío converted to finish off TFC.
RSL debutant Paulo Araujo Jr. then completed the rout, making it 4-1 in the 80th minute.
Considered a player’s coach, Dasovic can only do so much, and this result shouldn’t be an indictment against him as a coach.
He can encourage and pump up the guys as much as he wants — the former Canadian international is young, ambitious and full of optimism. All good qualities. But it’ll take time for him to address the underlying issues that are at the core of TFC’s current malaise.
The question is, will Dasovic have enough time with only six games left in the MLS season and TFC approaching the brink of missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season?