The Islanders headed into this match well rested, this being their first match since these sides met last week. Coming away with a priceless away goal, last seasons’ semi finalists are expected to complete the job on home turf. With a draw enough to ensure progression and with their proficiency at running down the clock, the Puerto Rican side, sporting orange strips, was heavily favored. In a surprise move, Kendall Jagdeonsingh, scorer of last weeks’ goal, was demoted to the bench.
Toronto FC welcomed back Amada Guevara to their starting line up. Having secured a 1-1 away draw at New England Revolution over the weekend, Toronto did not have the same recovery time as their experienced opponents. Adrian Serioux also won the nod ahead of Emmanuel Gomez who had started in defense against the Islanders at home.
The game started cagily, but soon a pattern developed with the Islanders content to allow Toronto the bulk of the possession and rely on the counter attack. Stefan Frei, who had a nightmare in goal in the first leg, had little to do. A long range volleyed effort that was straight down his throat was his most influential contribution in the first quarter of an hour. TFC, however, seemed to want to shoot themselves in the foot when Jim Brennan failed to clear the ball properly, but the Islanders were unable to make the most of it.
Ali Gerba’s rasping effort off a free kick went wide. The ball went down the other end and following Sam Cronin’s inability to hold on to possession; the Islanders hit the post with a bouncing effort from Nicholas Addlery. Gerba took another long-range free kick, this time Bill Gaudette had to dive at full stretch to tip the effort off the post and out for a corner. Pablo Vitti appeared to have been tripped in the box by Gaudette, but the referee waved play on.
Toronto was being sloppy on the ball despite enjoying a high percentage of the possession. Guevara was having an especially ineffectual game with his frustration epitomized by a rash tackle from behind on Jonathan Steele in which he injured himself and also earned a deserved yellow card.
A fantastic run by Marvell Wynne down the right caused havoc in the Islanders’ box, but despite beating two men, he was unable to find a Toronto shirt with his cut back. The ball ricocheted to Vitti who was also unable to pass the wall of defenders in front of him. Wynne was a constant threat and made several lung-busting runs. One of his crosses produced a header from Vitti that was too close to the goalkeeper.
Peter Villegas was released down the right for the Islanders and his cut back found his man with precision. However, he failed to make any sort of meaningful contact with the ball and the chance went begging. With Toronto intent on playing a high line, Villegas and Addlery looked to exploit their superior pace against the aging TFC back line.
Two stinging efforts from the right produced two splendid saves from Gaudette, who was displaying the same fine form that had thwarted Toronto on home turf. First Gerba unleashed, then De Rosario let fly and his effort deflected off a defender to make the subsequent save all the more difficult.
At half time, the tie was still alive with the score 0-0.
Toronto made a sweet move to start the first, half but the final shot was scuffed, however the intent was clear as another shot on target was registered in quick succession. The Puerto Ricans, however, quickly established control over the game with Steele calling the shots in midfield. He played a ball to Jones who put in a deep cross for Villegas. All he needed to do was to bring the ball down well, but a bad first touch allowed De Rosario to nip in and snub the danger.
At the other end Gaudette tipped the ball over the bar off another shot from outside the box by Gerba threatened to even the tie. The home side was defending in numbers. At one time Gerba found himself surrounded by six defenders. This prompted Coach Chris Cummins to bring on Chad Barrett for Sam Cronin with the clock running down.
Following the attacking substitution, Toronto became camped in the Islanders half, winning a succession of corners. Gaudette once again produced the heroics to keep out a Vitti header. Wynne then cut in from his flank and had a decent left-footed effort go just wide. Gerba tried his luck once again with a penalty shout that was denied as he had bundled over far too easily for the referee's liking.
Islanders were doing a great job of shutting up shop, the attack
becoming largely mute as they pushed numbers back. Toronto
rarely threatened. A sharp shot over the bar from outside the box by De
Rosario the closest to breaking the deadlock. The visitors simply did
not look up to breaking down the Islanders' defensive formation. The
final ball was lacking and Gerba was largely starved of the service on which a striker thrives.
Jagdeosingh replaced Addlery, who had run his socks off. This was closely followed by a great shot from Barrett that was saved once again by Gaudette. The ball came to Danny Dichio, whose shot clattered onto the post and out. He really should have scored from the edge of the six-yard box.
Steele hit a sweet shot on the half volley that Frei did well to save. With six minutes left on the clock, that would have been game, set and match to the Islanders. Even though the home side seldom attacked, they had an edge to their attacking play. Toronto, for all their possession in the opposition half, lacked bite. With Dichio, Gerba, O’Brian, Vitti and De Rosario on the field, Toronto had plenty of men forward that were devoid of any decent service.
Kendall Jagdeosingh was shown a red card with two minutes to go for what appeared to be his having words with the referee. Despite the one-man advantage, Toronto failed to produce any clear-cut chances and the Islanders’ solid defense held on for the 1-0 aggregate win.
The Islanders move on to the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League and owe this triumph largely to the heroics of goalkeeper extraordinaire Bill Gaudette, whose saves proved decisive in both legs.
Toronto has the daunting task of facing Real Madrid in a friendly on Friday before resuming regular MLS action. Their Champions League dream comes to a premature end, having failed to recover from Frei’s blunder in the first game.
Talha Zaheer, Goal.com