Toronto FC simply stopped playing.
That’s how the club’s manager and players explained Saturday’s 2-2 tie against the Chicago Fire at BMO Field in a match which saw TFC holding a 2-0 lead in the second half.
“I think in the second half we didn’t want to play anymore,” Toronto manager Aron Winter said. “That’s why I think we lost, because in the first half we were chasing up and pushing up and putting pressure in the front. Then in the second half after the second goal we didn’t do that anymore, and that’s why I think we have given away two points.”
Toronto FC’s 19-year-old attacking sensation Joao Plata put the home team up 1-0 after just nine minutes and Maicon Santos doubled the lead when he saw his shot slip through the legs of Chicago goalkeeper Jon Conway in the 47th minute.
But 15 minutes later the Fire’s Marco Pappa provided an injection of hope after his free kick goal left Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei frozen on his line. Chicago would proceed to take command of the rest of the match, equalizing at 2-2 and nearly winning the match outright.
“After about 60 minutes we packed it in and thought the game was over,” Frei said. “We got lazy. We didn’t show for the ball anymore, didn’t go for runs, didn’t cover each other defensively, just those extra things. Now I hope everybody knows that the game in 90 minutes, not 60.”
“We just sat back too deep, and we weren’t the same as we were in the first half,” midfielder Julian de Guzman said. “Every third pass we made after the hour mark was easily given away, or no one wanted the ball anymore.”
Plata, whose inclusion in Toronto’s starting lineup two weeks ago gave TFC a timely and much-needed boost of energy, is one player who always wants the ball for Toronto. But the Ecuadorean was surprisingly subbed off after just 60 minutes.
TFC’s most dangerous attacks had originated from runs or passes by Plata and his substitution coincided with the drop in energy and desire described in the Toronto locker room.
Winter was forced to explain the move in his post-game media comments and admitted that the score line had a lot to do with Plata’s removal from the match.
“Plata is very young and he played well, and we saw that he was a little bit tired,” Winter said. “You have to be careful with the young players, and that’s why we changed him. To spare him. Because in the coming weeks we are playing a lot of games. The score was also 2-0 at that moment.”
Despite the 2-2 final, the Dutch manager is undeterred. Whatever the final result has been in recent matches, he continues to play up the progress he sees in his squad from game to game. It was the case after the club’s 1-0 midweek defeat at FC Dallas and he also saw the silver lining in Saturday’s tie as well.
“It’s a pity [the 2-2 tie], because in the first half we showed that we were improving every week in our play,” Winter said.
An opportunity for redemption is right around the corner on Wednesday in the first leg of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship final as TFC hit the road to face MLS rivals Vancouver.
Until then, Toronto will mull over the 2-0 lead that vanished into thin air against Chicago in league play. A victory would have lifted them within striking distance of first place in the Eastern Conference.
“We had three points in our pocket, it was a terrific opportunity to keep ourselves in the standings,” de Guzman said. “But we blew it thanks to ourselves.”