The birth of a new era? More like a false dawn.
A new-look Toronto FC took to the pitch on a muggy Wednesday night, but it was the same old result for the Reds, who suffered a 1-0 loss to FC Dallas before an announced crowd of 21,087 spectators.
Losers of three in a row and with one win in its last 13 matches, Toronto sees its record drop to 3-10-9 on the Major League Soccer season. With 12 games remaining its playoff hopes are fading fast.
Realizing his team was short on quality and character, coach Aron Winter overhauled his roster, making three trades and signing a free agent defender in the past seven days.
As a result, five players made their TFC debut against Dallas – defenders Eddy Viator and Andy Iro, midfielder Torsten Frings, and forwards Danny Koevermens and Ryan Johnson.
Club management heralded the series of moves as a new beginning for a beleaguered Toronto side that boasts the worst defence and offence in the 18-team league.
"The first day of the rest our lives," as one official put it.
Instead, the same old TFC was on full display Wednesday, the one infamous for its disjointed play and inept defending. Lacking inspiration and a sense of purpose, the "new-and-improved" Reds provided scant evidence that better days are just ahead.
To be fair, it’s going to take time for Winter’s new recruits to exert any kind of influence and gel with their new teammates, and any progress made by the team in the short-term will be minimal.
But that will hardly appease long-suffering TFC fans who have had to endure 4 ½ years of losing soccer, especially in a league known for its parity and where rebuilding teams have made the playoffs.
While conceding it would take one or two more games for the newcomers to fully fit in, Winter painted a more optimistic picture of Wednesday’s performance. He felt his team was a little hard done by and deserved at least a point.
"I saw a lot of good things tonight. I am satisfied," said the Dutchman.
Winter praised Frings, who starred for Germany at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, for demonstrating leadership and providing a steadying presence in the heart of midfield.
"That’s what I am here for. We have a young team and I want to show them leadership. I want to give them some confidence and motivation because we are on a losing streak right now," Frings said through a translator.
Toronto started off strong, with Koevermens drawing an early foul and Frings forcing a save from Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman on the ensuing free kick.
The visitors soon woke up, with the attacking quartet of Jackson Goncalves, Ricardo Villar, Eric Alexander and Brek Shea exploiting holes in TFC’s defence.
Denied quality midfield service, Koevermens struggled to impose himself after a bright start.
Shea broke the deadlock in the 48th minute with one of the best-ever goals scored at BMO Field. After picking up the ball at midfield, the Dallas forward skipped past several Toronto players and unleashed a gorgeous strike from 25 yards out that nestled inside the top-left corner of the net.
Shek now has nine goals, tying him with Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry for the MLS lead.
Moments after Dallas spurned a scoring chance, TFC captain Maicon Santos came close in the 63rd minute, his powerful shot parried away by Hartman.
Toronto had two glorious chances to level the score in the final minutes, but Santos and Iro both failed to convert from inside the six-yard box.