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article imageFrank Klopas tweaks system to earn away goal against Toronto FC Special

By Tyrrell Meertins     May 29, 2014 in Sports
One of the main themes that dominated European football over the past 12 months was the success of reactive football. Teams dominated games through negating space in the final third, and attacking on the counter in some of the biggest matches this season.
Toronto FC has displayed glimpses of the aforementioned style of football, but for the most part, it’s fair to say that Ryan Nelsen’s side lack a tactical identity. In the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final, TFC’s style was eccentric.
Gilberto and Dwayne De Rosario started upfront, while Nick Lovitz, Ashtone Morgan and Jeremy Hall were included in the starting XI. Neither side took the onus in dictating the tempo of the match in the first half, as Gilberto and De Rosario pressed Hernan Bernadello, and Patrice Bernier’s impact was minimal. Likewise, with Bradley Orr protecting the back four, Bernier’s press on Hall nullified the midfielder, which forced him to play conservative passes.
TFC, however, were the superior side due to quick combination play and overloads in both channels. Morgan, Orr, and Nicklas Hagglund, powered forward into the channels to receive overlapping passes from the wingers, but Frank Klopas' back four comfortably coped with their deliveries from wide areas.
Following Doneil Henry’s opener, Klopas' men strayed away from a 4-1-4-1 without the ball. The Impact manager encouraged Felipe to press Henry when TFC aimed to play out the back, and suddenly the Reds encountered difficulties creating buildup play in midfield.
The Impact, on the other hand, struggled to move into advanced areas as a unit due to TFC’s intent to press the away side higher up the field. Di Vaio intentionally made runs into the let channel to isolate inexperienced Nick Hagglund, and TFC captain Steven Caldwell –– who lacks pace –– but the Impact’s sloppy passing hindered their attempt to retain possession.
Klopas reacted, though –– albeit Felipe’s injury could’ve contributed to his early chance –– by introducing Jack McInerney upfront alongside Di Vaio. The Impact’s change to a 4-4-2 provided Di Vaio with support upfront, and it created space for wide players Romero and Justin Mapp to attack in the final third. Romero posed a new challenge to Hagglund with his direct running, and it enabled Mapp to score a magnificent equalizer following his slaloming run from the right flank.
“We showed Justin inside which was a mistake, and it was a quality finish from a quality player,” Nelsen said. “In my opinion, Justin has been one the best players arguably this year and last year. I thought it was the only way they were going to score, so you have to tip your hat.”
Nevertheless, Di Vaio was more involved in build-up play as both strikers occasionally dropped deep to link play and retain possession. Bernadello also began to dictate the match from a deep position in midfield as the press from the TFC front two decreased.
While the Impact only created two legitimate goal-scoring opportunities throughout the entire match, Klopas' men dictated the second half. Hall displayed his inability to control the midfield at the MLS level, and TFC only improved in the final 15 minutes when Kyle Bekker entered the fray. De Rosario and Gilberto didn’t produce spectacular performances, and both men failed to convert quality chances that should have won TFC the tie; the former rattled the crossbar twice, whereas the latter guided several chances wide of net.
Still, this wouldn’t be a cup final without a bit of controversy. In the second half, the Impact were denied a stonewall penalty, following Morgan’s defensive lapse, which led to a Steven Caldwell handball. Klopas classified the non-call as an embarrassment in his post-match comments.
“For me to come here again and complain with the referees because of two clear handballs in the box is embarrassing. It was a good game played by both teams, but if you’re going to have a final at least make the players decide it,” Klopas said.
While TFC were missing a few key players, conceding an away goal in a two-legged home fixture isn’t a positive result. Without full-backs Justin Morrow and Mark Bloom, the Reds were solid defensively; but once again, failure to retain possession and dictate the tempo of the match led to their downfall.
“I put out a team that I thought –– and probably should have –– won the game. We gave a lot of guys the chance to prove themselves; they worked hard and were organized, but now we go to Montreal and we’re really looking forward to the away tie,” Nelsen said.
This was a tale of two halves in which TFC’s clever combination plays tormented the Impact in the first half, but Klopas' tactical change provided the attacking impetus the away side lacked in the first half.
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