Toronto FC plays with Fire in draw

Sitting on a comfortable two-goal advantage after 47 minutes, Toronto FC needlessly coughed up the lead and settled for a disappointing 2-2 draw against the visiting Chicago Fire on a rainy and windy Saturday night before 18,674 spectators.

For 60 minutes, Toronto FC played with heart, style and conviction.

And then they suddenly stopped.

Sitting on a comfortable two-goal advantage, the Reds needlessly coughed up the lead and settled for a disappointing 2-2 draw against the visiting Chicago Fire on a rainy and windy Saturday night before 18,674 spectators.

Joao Plata and Maicon Santos scored for TFC (2-4-5) before Marco Pappa and Orr Barouch responded for Chicago in the final 27 minutes to deny Toronto its third win of the Major League Soccer season.

One can’t help but wonder from where Toronto mustered the arrogance to think it could protect a two-goal cushion in less than ideal conditions, even against a Chicago side winless in its last eight matches?

Fifteen goals against in the Reds’ previous 10 games of the campaign should have tipped them off that their defence could not be trusted. And so it turned out to be.

Coach Aron Winter admitted his players’ reluctance to continue to attack cost them the victory.

"I think in the second half we didn’t want to play anymore, and that’s why I think we lost because in the first half we were pushing up and putting pressure up front. In the second half after the second goal, we didn’t do that anymore," explained the Dutchman.

Right fullback Richard Eckersley agreed with his coach’s assessment: "The best way to defend is to attack, and we didn’t do that tonight."

Winter made no bones about his disappointment, saying his team "gave away two points."

It all could have been so different for TFC.

Santos’ goal early in the second half capped off a brilliant stretch for Toronto, who dominated the game up to that point with their attacking and inventive play. But the Reds inexplicably let their guard down, and the Fire made them pay.

The blown lead notwithstanding, there were positives for Toronto, namely the play of Plata.

Once again, the 19-year-old Ecuadorian forward, who stands five-feet-three, was brilliant, scoring a highlight reel goal and causing problems for the Chicago defence with his probing runs and sublime touch on the ball.

It took Plata just nine minutes to exert his influence. The South American slashed his way past two Chicago players before firing a bullet just inside the far post from 24 yards out. Fire goalkeeper Jon Conway, traded by Toronto to Chicago during the off-season, had no chance on the play.

The opening 45 minutes had to rate as the best half from the Reds this season, the lone blemish being Canadian midfielder Julian de Guzman picking up his fifth yellow card of the season, earning an automatic one-game suspension in the process.

Monsoon conditions prevailed after halftime, as TFC padded its lead off a horrendous mistake by Conway. Santos’ low drive in the 47th minute from 30 yards out was mishandled by the Fire goalkeeper and found its way into the back of the net.

Plata was replaced by Alen Stevanovic in the 60th minute. Without him driving them forward, the Reds looked stale in attack. Winter said he took the Ecuadorian out because he was tired, and that he wanted to save him for the heavy slate of games ahead for TFC.

His exit was the turning point in the game, as three minutes later Pappa scored on a gorgeous free kick from outside the box to cut the deficit.

The Reds responded by dropping into a defensive shell. It was a risky tactic, one that they were punished for in the 75th minute when Orr scored on a defensive lapse by TFC inside their penalty area.

Chicago should have had a third goal with seven minutes left in regulation, but Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei made a fantastic save to rob the Fire’s Dan Paladini on a breakaway.

"Every third pass we made after the hour-mark, it was either given away or guys didn’t want the ball anymore. I think that’s why it was easy for Chicago to come back," de Guzman lamented.

NOTES: Toronto’s next game is May 18 vs. the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the Canadian Nutrilite championship. The Reds follow that with another road game on May 22 against the Colorado Rapids in MLS play … TFC forward Alan Gordon sat out his third consecutive match Saturday with a groin strain. Mikael Yourassowsky also missed the game due to injury (left knee) while fellow defender Danleigh Borman was unavailable because of personal reasons … Nana Attakora, who earlier this week confirmed to that he was involved in a contract dispute with the club, did not dress for the Reds. The Canadian defender’s last appearance came in an April 16 loss to D.C. United …