Toronto FC nipped by Independiente in exhibition
Toronto FC didn't win Tuesday night, but it did manage to help Major League Soccer earn some credibility in the eyes of one of the top clubs from South America.
The Canadian team lost a hard-fought 1-0 decision to Argentina's Independiente before a crowd of 18,741 spectators on a gorgeous summer night at BMO Field.
The international exhibition match against the the Buenos Aires club was a solid test for a Toronto team looking to improve in its second MLS season.
"I thought the boys' effort was first class," Toronto assistant coach Chris Cummins said. "At times, our quality let us down, but I can't fault their effort and application tonight."
Formed in 1905, Independiente has won 14 Argentine Championships (third behind power houses River Plate and Boca Juniors) and a record seven Copa Libertadores (South American championships), including four straight from 1972 to 1975.
Toronto employed an experimental lineup, using the exhibition game as an opportunity to give some of its youngsters playing time. Midfielder Maurice Edu was the only regular in the starting lineup, but Cummins felt the club didn't lack chemistry on the field despite the absence of so many team veterans.
"We use these games for what they are for. It's a great learning opportunity for the young guys," Cummins said.
One of the bench players who shone the brightest was American forward Ibee Ibrahim, the 16-year-old who scored in his league debut Saturday in a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire.
The Ethiopian-born Ibrahim caused plenty of problems for Independiente's defence with his speed and deft ball control.
He was substituted out of the game in 58th minute but not before the Toronto crowd gave him a thunderous round of applause for his efforts.
"We worked hard and created some scoring chances but we couldn't convert. It's disappointing," said Ibrahim.
The first half was a physical and chippy affair, with plenty of fouls and three yellow cards but few scoring opportunities as both teams battled it out in midfield.
Toronto's defence, anchored by rookie Julius James, did a good job of neutralizing Independiente forwards Pablo Vitti and Ismael Sosa in the opening 45 minutes.
The game opened up at the start of the second half with both teams picking up the pace in attack.
After surviving a stretch of Toronto pressure, Independiente hit back and Vitti sent a shot that crashed against the crossbar.
Vitti broke the deadlock in the 68th minute when he volleyed the ball home after Sosa delivered a free kick into a crowded Toronto penalty area that eluded the defence.
That was all the offence Independiente would need.
Toronto never threatened after that and the Argentines comfortably held on for the win.
Toronto hosts the San Jose Earthquakes on July 19 (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 3 p.m. ET) in an MLS regular-season contest and then tangles with Montreal Impact at BMO Field on July 22 in the final game of the Canadian Champions League (CBC Bold, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET).
BMO Field will also stage this year's MLS All-Star Game on July 24 (CBC, CBCSports.ca) when the league's best face English side West Ham United.