Former Red hands TFC’s playoff hopes a crushing blow.
Preki implemented several changes to his Toronto side that drew midweek in Chicago. Martin Saric returned from suspension to start and Mista was back after being a last-minute scratch versus the Fire. Maicon Santos was handed his first start since coming back from a lengthy spell on the sidelines on Wednesday.
Ben Olsen’s D.C. United was also hampered by injury and the caretaker boss changed things up from the XI who dropped a 1-0 decision to the Crew last Saturday. Troy Perkins started in net for the injured Bill Hamid, who very well might be done for the season. Dejan Jakovic, away on international duty with Canada, returned to a spot in the back four.
TFC almost found away to open proceedings in the 6th through the captain. Taking possession in midfield, Dwayne De Rosario barrelled through Jakovic and former Red Julius James to the edge of the United box. The Toronto talisman blasted a right-footer low, but he couldn’t beat the far post, as it the ball ricocheted out.
Only two minutes later, the visitors had a glorious chance to take the lead. A Santino Quaranta cross into the area was dealt with Nana Attakora, but his clearance was deflected to Andy Najar. Though the Honduran struck a beautiful volley that hit the inside of the far post and then bounced across the goal line, Najar was, in fact, offside.
Najar would then play provider in the 16th. Although it appeared that he intended his effort as a shot on goal, Najar’s attempt was furthered by a Pablo Hernandez glancing header. The ball cleared the crossbar, though it was a fine effort by the striker to even make contact with it.
The middle of the half was marked by extended periods of sloppiness by the two teams. Broken plays and wildly inaccurate passes meant for no flow to the match and there was an overt sense of frustration from both the home fans and the vocal contingent of travelling United supporters. Toronto, in particular, certainly wasn’t playing like a side with any urgency.
The match picked up just past the half-hour with the clubs exchanging chances. In the 32nd, a falling Mista did well to send in a through ball for Maicon, who had a step inside on Julius James. The Brazilian’s first touch was a poor one and the ball skipped away from him, taking away from the Reds what could have been a vital opportunity for the opening goal. Right back the other way, Danny Alsopp sent in a smart pass in an attempt to play in Quaranta, but Frei darted off of his line to parry away from the nearing United captain.
From the ensuing corner, the normally sure-handed Frei almost handed DCU the first goal of the match. The Swiss ‘keeper came out to catch Hernandez’s swung in effort, but the ball slipped through his fingers with a couple of black shirts waiting at the mouth of the goal. The quick-thinking Attakora spared his goaltender’s blushes and headed away from danger before any damage was done.
Off of that clearance, Toronto came right back to the United end led by Saric. The Argentine reached the far touchline and sent in a looping cross into the area. Even leaping, the service was too high for the head of Maicon and, by the time that it reached the feet of De Rosario at the far post, Perkins had located the ball and smartly collected.
United would have the best chance of the opening half with just under ten to play. A deft one-two between Hernandez and Alsopp got the better of the Toronto back line and Alsopp was able to make his way in alone on Frei. The Australian international was blessed with time and space, but perhaps waited a second too long to release, as Frei was able to come out and cut the angle and made a fine save to keep the match scoreless.
The two sides headed to the room level on zeroes – a fair result for what was a largely uninspired first period.
Back from recess, the visitors immediately gave cause for their supporters to prematurely grey in the 48th. After receiving from Hernandez, Najar pushed past Nick Garcia to get in alone on Frei, with Quaranta trailing closely behind to his left. Using the two-on-nothing to his advantage, Najar calmly passed over to Quaranta and the sliding captain’s effort somehow found the side netting and not the gaping open goal. This, perhaps, wasn’t at the level of Kei Kamara’s goal line miss from last season, but Quaranta simply had to score here.
In the 59th, Hernandez did well to recover from being knocked over by Dan Gargan to chase down a loose ball and lead his team into the Toronto area. With Garcia taking away his shooting lane, Hernandez squared for Alsopp, who sent his drive well high. Much like Quaranta, Alsopp’s finishing should have been better, but, once again, the Reds lax coverage only escaped punishment thanks to an unforced error from United.
As the second progressed, the match looked much like the first – devoid of any real flow and quality opportunities. Neither team was able to find any dominance in the midfield, in large part due to its own mental mistakes and poor judgment, and not from quality play from the opposition. The normally boisterous BMO crowd was overwhelmingly subdued.
With under ten minutes remaining, the match finally saw its first goal, and it was a former Red who would break TFC hearts. Unmarked on a Hernandez free kick into the Toronto 18-yard box, Julius James collected with his back to goal. Fighting off Attakora, the defender turned and fired into the net, giving United a 1-0 lead in the 81st. Set pieces have been the bane of Toronto’s existence all season and this was no different, with poor coverage allowing D.C.’s breakthrough.
At the referee’s whistle, the Reds walked off the pitch to a chorus of boos from the remaining fans, with many having already filed to the exits before the match’s conclusion.
Toronto, with its postseason chances dwindling by the match, next sees action on Saturday, away to Brian Ching and the Dynamo. United, coming off of its second win in five matches, travels to the Home Depot Center for its next encounter, also on Saturday, versus the returning David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy.
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