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article imageDefoe's penalty sees TFC punish San Jose for poor start

By Tyrrell Meertins     Jun 8, 2014 in Sports
It appears that Toronto FC’s philosophy under Ryan Nelsen won’t alter this season. TFC dominated possession in the opening half of their showdown with the San Jose Earthquakes, but endured the same issues that have hindered their approach this season.
Jonathan Osorio and Jackson were recalled to the flanks, while Collen Warner featured in midfield alongside Kyle Bekker. Nelsen recognized that he would need to field a physical lineup against the Earthquakes, but he didn’t expect his side to find it relatively easy to sustain possession.
TFC were the better side in the first half due to the Earthquakes illogical approach to the match. Mark Watson’s men maintained a high-line but applied no pressure to the Reds’ midfield. Bekker and Warner dropped between the two Earthquakes’ forwards to receive the ball and push TFC forward.
There weren’t many differences between this performance and their loss against Montreal midweek, but the inclusion of Warner was pivotal. Warner pushed TFC’s attack forward with his reliable passing –– specifically into Jackson who drifted into pockets of space in central areas –– and his ability to break up the Earthquakes transitions.
However, the difference between the two sides was their approach without the ball. TFC pressed San Jose as a unit when they tried to play out the back and they often forced the Earthquakes to concede possession in their zone. The Reds, however, lack a player capable of creating chances, but a brief three-minute spell was enough to give them the lead.
Nick Hagglund was TFC’s most proactive player in the opening half due to Shea Salinas’ unwillingness to track the right-back’s runs. Hagglund volleyed an Osorio cross that forced goalkeeper Jon Busch to make a save, and minutes later his acrobatic shot bounced inches wide of the net. Alan Gordon, though, elbowed Hagglund in the face shortly after, which resulted in a penalty that Jermain Defoe converted.
TFC’s press decreased in the second half and this enabled the Earthquakes to improve significantly. Watson’s men, however, failed to pose a threat to TFC’s back-line. Gordon’s movement between the lines to receive the ball didn’t provide an end product, and Sam Cronin’s passing was conservative. Steven Lenhart and substitute JJ Koval both received chances in the box to equalize in the final 20 minutes, but they failed to test Joe Bendik.
“We’re in a lovely position with 19 points from 11 games. We understand we’re in a nice position. But we’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves. We have to improve in a lot of aspects,” Nelsen said.
“What I want Toronto FC to be is [a club who] when teams play us they have to earn it to win it, they have to play really well to beat us. And I think that’s starting to happen. That’s a good reputation to have.”
Likewise, Nelsen’s back four coped well with the physical and aerial threat that the Earthquakes attack possess, but in fairness, Watson’s men struggled overall. The midfield duo was anonymous, and the productivity in wide areas was feeble. Newly-acquired Red Dominic Oduro made an instant impact with his pace, but apart from Hagglund’s squandered effort, TFC didn’t pose a threat in the final third.
"We started slow, which was disappointing,” Watson said. "But credit to our guys. They found a way to come back and give a good go of it in the second half.
"But I wasn't happy with their performance in the first half. We didn't seem like we had the energy that was necessary to compete right away."
Stylistically, this was a disappointing match in which the Earthquakes lack of pressure enabled the Reds to dominate the opening half. TFC’s inability to maintain those levels for the entirety of the match saw Watson’s men push forward in the second half, but their lack of a midfield presence impeded their overall play.
The match was crying for a creative figure on both sides, but here, a moment of petulance, and the performance of TFC’s back four merited maximum points.
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