Late goals continue to plague TFC
First, the good news.
Dwayne De Rosario scored his first goal for Toronto FC in a 1-1 draw with FC Dallas on Saturday in what was easily the midfielder's best performance for the Canadian club since being acquired in an off-season trade.
Toronto's much maligned defence put it in a good day at the office, Kevin Harmse being the notable exception, and shut down Dallas' Kenny Cooper, one of the best strikers in the league.
And a week after stumbling to an embarrassing 2-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders — "I thought it was a disgrace," coach John Carver said of his players' efforts after the game — Toronto bounced back with a solid, balanced showing against Dallas.
All silver lining stuff, to be sure.
Now, to the dark, foreboding clouds hovering above.
Pablo Ricchetti's goal with two minutes left in regulation allowed Dallas to escape with an undeserved point, thus leaving Toronto winless in its last three games and still searching for its first victory at home.
Only four games into the season, it might be premature to push the panic button just yet.
Still, Ricchetti's equalizer in the waning moments of Saturday's game was hardly an isolated incident, and it served to underline the fact that Toronto has trouble holding onto a late lead.
Prior to the start of the current campaign, Carver stressed that one problem from last year he planned to address was the team's propensity for giving up late goals.
On five different occasions during the 2008 season, Toronto conceded a goal in the final 10 minutes of regulation, either when leading or with the score tied. The team wound up earning just one point from those games (instead of seven points), and in the end, it was at a great cost: Toronto finished five points out of a playoff spot.
Toronto appeared to have finally licked the problem a few weeks ago in Kansas City. The Wizards threw everything they had at Toronto in the closing minutes, but Carver's men soaked up the pressure and emerged with a 3-2 road victory in the season opener.
But Dallas delivered a swift kick to Toronto's Achilles heel on Saturday, leaving Carver's team limp and crippled following yet another late-game collapse.
Asked point blank by CBCSports.ca why his team finds it difficult to finish off opponents, Carver struggled for a suitable explanation.
'Anxiety crept in'
"I don't know. Maybe a little bit of anxiety crept in today," Carver. "As a coach, I don't think there's a great deal you can do about that, because it's down to [the players]."
A more likely explanation might be that when the pressure mounts, Carver's players are prone to lapses in concentration and commit grievous defensive errors.
That was certainly the case on Saturday.
Ricchetti tied the game on a gorgeous back-heel, but the truth is the Dallas captain never should have had the goal-scoring opportunity.
Dax McCarty delivered a high ball into the box off a corner kick that landed at the feet of teammate Eric Avila. Chaos ensued as Toronto players scrambled to figure out their defensive assignments, and in the interim, Avila delivered a perfect centring pass to Ricchetti, who flicked it home.
Carver's men were guilty of ball-watching on the play — a cardinal sin when you're protecting a late lead — and they paid dearly for their mistake.
"It's not just about the first [pass] that comes in, it's about reacting to the second one. When the ball goes over your head, it's no good just standing and watching — you still have to pick your man and we didn't do that," Carver said.
Carl Robinson agreed with his coach's diagnosis.
"The corner kick came in, we didn't deal with the first ball, then we tried to switch off as the second one came in, and Dallas tapped it in. No excuse," the midfielder confirmed.
What will be interesting to see is how the Toronto players respond to this latest setback and whether or not they will finally learn from their late-game mistakes.
"I hope it's not going to be one of those seasons where it comes down to the last two minutes or so where teams are able to capitalize on our mistakes," said defender Adrian Serioux.