CONCACAF Champions League: Arabe Unido 1–0 Toronto FC: Poor Play and Play-Acting Fell Reds

Reds fall by a single goal.
The Reds fell 1-0 away to Arabe Unido in a match filled with shameful play-acting and, at times, baffling officiating. Worst of all for Toronto, who finished on 9-men with the second half sendings off of Nick Labrocca and Fuad Ibrahim, was a first 45-minutes completely devoid of initiative and urgency. While the refereeing and gamesmanship from Arabe Unido didn’t help their cause, at the end of the day, Toronto was the designer of its own demise with a generally substandard effort.

Fidel Cesar had the match’s only goal.

First Half

TFC implemented several changes to the squad that lost its first home match of the season on Saturday versus New York, including rare starts handed to Ty Harden in the back and Gabe Gala in the midfield, but the biggest change for TFC was in net, where Milos Kocic, Toronto’s third choice ‘keeper, made only his second appearance of the season. Stefan Frei, along with Maicon Santos and Chad Barrett, remained in Toronto and Jon Conway was on the bench.

Arabe Unido couldn’t really be called hosts tonight, as their stadium isn’t up to CONCACAF standards, so the match took place in the home stadium of San Francisco FC in La Cocchera, Panama, some 70 miles from  Arabe Unido’s home in Colon. Because of this, the match was sparsely attended at Estadio Augustin Sanchez, with barely 500 people filling the stadium with a capacity of 3,000.

The match’s first good chance came in the 4th and Mario Sergio Angulo should have done better. After a bit of a scramble in the TFC box, a deflected cross found Angulo alone and with Kocic at his mercy. Angulo’s effort was a poor one, though, sending it over from point-blank range.

Perhaps it was the artificial turf or the make-up of the TFC line-up, but the visitors could get nothing going offensively in the first half. Passes were mistimed and rushed and Toronto was simply unable to sustain any possession. Their best chance came in the 15th, when Fuad Ibrahim, starting up front with O’Brian White, was set up in behind the Arabe Unido defence by a Raivis Hscanovics cross. His free header went well wide, but it didn’t matter, as he was flagged for offside in the process.

The Panamanians looked to open the scoring in the 23rd. Nana Attakora was caught flatfooted on an attempted through ball, allowing Manuel Mosquera to get in on net with only Kocic to beat. Mosquera has plenty of time and space and a fantastic shooting lane, but chose to try to deke around Kocic, who had come out to cut the angle. The ‘keeper, who has spent much of the season on loan with Serbian White Eagles of the Canadian Soccer League, collected easily from Mosquera’s feet. In a last ditch effort to win a penalty, Mosquera comically threw himself to ground, but the referee would have none of it.

Arabe Unido’s opening group stage match featured nine minutes of stoppage time versus Real Salt Lake, mostly due to La Furia Colonese’s proclivity for spending more time on the ground than Josh Koscheck. This tactic was employed once again by Arabe Unido, with the club’s one first half foul being dwarfed by Toronto’s twelve and a great deal of it due to the Panamanians’ embellishment.

In contrast to this, though, was Arabe Unido’s captain, Eric Davis, who had to be stretchered off of the field in the 28th. Going down under a seemingly innocuous challenge from Maksim Usanov, Davis began loudly screeching in pain, clutching his leg. Manager Richard Parra immediately signaled for a substitution and took off his captain.

The Liga Panamena side found their breakthrough in the 40th. An Usanov attempted back pass was a poor one and it resulted in an Arabe Unido corner. After being headed on by Francisco Castaneda, the ball came to Fidel Cesar. The defender did well to control the ball with his thigh and sent in a strike on goal. The shot beat Kocic, but was cleared by Gabe Gala. The referee’s assistant immediately indicated a goal, as Gala was behind the goal line for his clearance. Replays showed that the assistant’s keen eye had this one right and it was a legitimate goal, putting Arabe Unido up 1-0 at half-time.

Second Half

In an attempt to inject some life into his squad, Preki brought on captain Dwayne De Rosario for White, hoping that his flair and industry could kick-start a misfiring offense. The captain’s work almost paid immediate dividends in the 48th.

Breaking in down the left De Rosario saw Ibrahim heading to goal with a step on his marker. His low cross was a good one, but ‘keeper Jose Calderon, who would become a crucial figure to the complexion of the match only moments later, was able to collect before the young forward could get a hold of the service.

Only two minutes later, TFC would find itself a man down thanks to some questionable officiating and trademark exaggeration from Arabe Unido. In the 50th, a deflection sent a ball into the Panamanians’ area. Calderon came out to collect, while Labrocca rushed in to get an attempt on net. Calderon got to the 50-50 ball a split second before the midfielder. Seeing this, the sliding Labrocca pulled his legs back, but his right knee caught the ‘keeper’s face on the follow-through.

Calderon grabbed at his face as if somebody had thrown acid on it and the referee immediately showed Labrocca red. At worst, this was worthy of a yellow, but a sending off was more than harsh. Referee Mejia’s red card seemed to have mystical curative properties, though, as its appearance ostensibly healed Calderon, who was quickly back to his feet.

Because of the constant starts and stops, the action had no flow to it and Arabe Unido really wasn’t able to assert its numerical advantage and the match grew increasingly difficult to watch.

In the 76th, another TFC foul resulted in a Arabe Unido free kick from close range. The shot was taken by Angulo and his effort was a fine one, but it skipped just feet wide of the far post.

With time ticking away and frustration with their opponents’ tactics and the officiating progressing by the second, TFC’s best spell of offensive pressure started with a foul on De Rosario in the 80th. Hscanovics stood over the ball and made a run towards it, but it was De Rosario who took the shot and his low drive went wide of Calderon’s goal. DeRo was visibly irritated here, as he’s proven in the past to be more than capable of scoring from similar distance.

A flurry of action in the Arabe Unido box saw TFC frantically try to equalize, but in the end, it was Mejia, who would again take center stage. A signature Dan Gargan long throw was knocked down by De Rosario’s overhead kick attempt and into the path of Ibrahim just inside the box. The US under-20 international sent in a hard drive that was cleared near the mouth of goal by Marvin Mitchell. Attakora attempted to direct it back at net, but it was deflected to the left of goal. Ibrahim rushed in to keep it from going out and his slide met the free ball before Mitchell could intercede, yet the Arabe Unido defender threw himself to ground, resulting in a yellow to Ibrahim.

Because De Rosario started the game on the bench, Julian de Guzman was Toronto’s acting captain and went to Mejia to plead the case of his young teammate. Mejia must not have liked something that was said and he held up another red. Initially, it seemed as if de Guzman had been sent off, as a red card was shown, but it evidently was meant to be a second yellow for Ibrahim, who hit the showers three minutes early.

Now two men up, Arabe Unido had its best chance to grab their second into stoppage. The Panamanians broke in on goal two-on-none, as Mejia missed Publio Rodriguez taking out Hscanovics’ knee in the lead-up. Armando Cooper chose to shoot, rather than pass, and Kocic smartly saved his effort from very close range, meaning the match finished at 1-0.

TFC would now head back to Toronto ahead of its Saturday match with another Champions League Group A foe in Real Salt Lake. The return flight wouldn’t be a fun one for the Reds, who go home triply aggrieved: at their own lackluster effort, completely inconsistent officiating, and the poor sportsmanship of their opposition. A similar result versus RSL could very well send Toronto’s season right off the rails.

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