Two consecutive victories, inspired by TFC’s new stars, had fans on top of the world – but Real Salt Lake sent them plummeting right back down to earth.
After beating Seattle and D.C. United in their opening two matches, Toronto went into their third MLS game of the season on a high. But Toronto’s new saviours were unable to make up for their team’s glaring weaknesses.
The result: a commanding 3-0 victory for RSL. But what went wrong for Toronto?
In short, the team was just outplayed. Ryan Nelson’s men came up against a RSL side that was smoother, hungrier and more skillful.
But in truth, this result was somewhat foreseeable; it was bound to happen eventually.
Much like what was mentioned in the previous TFC post, Toronto was undone by holes in the team that were glaringly obvious – even when the team was winning.
In midfield, Michael Bradley was left to compete against RSL’s midfield virtually on his own. With Jonathan Osorio out injured, Jeremy Hall filled his place, and again, Toronto were outnumbered in the center of the park.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman was given free license to control the midfield area – and that he did, putting in a fantastic performance in front of US Men’s National Team boss Jürgen Klinsmann.
But Beckerman was almost encouraged to dominate the game by TFC. His dominance was aided by Ryan Nelson’s reluctance to play a wide player who can actually help contribute defensively (or to just play a different formation altogether).
Again, Alvaro Rey was nowhere to be found when TFC needed defensive cover. Rey, a European-style, attacking-minded winger, is not the type of player who can fulfill the role of a wideman in a 4-4-2. And that’s not necessarily his fault.
TFC’s backroom staff have to realize that the team will always be vulnerable when playing a player like Rey in a position that requires defensive work to be done. Instead, they’ve stuck with the same strategy for three matches now, hoping that their opponents would be too blind to exploit the space.
Unfortunately for Ryan Nelson, RSL did exactly that.
Rey specifically was targeted – RSL seemed to switch the focus of their attack to whichever wing Rey was playing on. When he shifted positions in the second half, the RSL attack followed him, using every opportunity to get at Toronto’s backline in the space left by Rey.
But this isn’t a scathing criticism of the player himself.
Rey can only enter the pitch and perform to the best of his abilities (which offensively, he clearly possesses in abundance), it’s up to his manager to employ him in a way that gets the most out of his strengths, and limits his weaknesses.
Moving forward, it’s plain to see that the current formation just doesn’t suit him. Rey needs to be further up the pitch, and TFC need enough bodies in the middle of the park to accommodate that.
The simplest method (again, refer to this post) would be to drop a striker. This doesn’t mean the team would be less offensive though – if anything, it would allow two wide players like Rey and Jackson to focus solely on creating opportunities for Jermain Defoe up top.
Of course, changing the style simply to suit one player (and a player nowhere near as important as Defoe or Bradley) is short-sighted.
But considering that Defoe could benefit from a different kind of service, and that Bradley would benefit from another body to help him control the midfield, it looks more and more like TFC’s vulnerability doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of Alvaro Rey.
Rather, this is just one of the most obvious holes in a TFC side that, instead of using superstars to paper over the cracks, should be looking to build a team that minimizes their weaknesses and maximizes their strengths.
Toronto can’t rely on Defoe (who has scored all three of their goals this season) or Bradley without given them the platform to perform. Something needs to be changed – TFC need to get the best out of what they have, superstar or not.
This performance should serve as a wake-up call.