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article imageNelsen's attack-minded changes sees TFC lift the Trillium Cup

By Tyrrell Meertins     Jun 1, 2014 in Sports
Despite a gradual improvement in results this season, Ryan Nelsen has made it difficult to overlook Toronto FC’s performances.
Following a mid-week draw against the Montreal Impact in the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final, TFC were equally mediocre when they hosted the Columbus Crew at BMO Field.
With Toronto FC playing three games in seven days, Ryan Nelsen was expected to rotate his starting eleven. Nelsen reshuffled his front four by introducing Jermain Defoe, Luke Moore, Jonathan Osorio and Jackson, while Kyle Bekker also returned to the starting XI. Likewise Nick Hagglund and Doneil Henry formed a centre back partnership, as captain Steven Caldwell was serving a suspension.
Yet, although TFC possessed an attack-minded quartet in advanced areas, the Reds’ overall display was uninventive. Besides two quick transitional breaks between Defoe and Moore, Nelsen’s side was limited to one half-chance. Bekker played a ball out wide to the advancing Mark Bloom, but Defoe couldn’t direct the TFC’s right back’s cross on goal.
TFC’s narrow 4-4-2 posed problems for the Crew, but they benefitted from the Reds’ sloppy passing in midfield, and exploited Bekker’s defensive deficiencies.
Justin Meram hit the post in the opening 10 minutes when he dropped into a pocket of space and turned past Bekker at the edge of the box. Minutes later, Bekker was easily turned again after pushing higher up the pitch, which led to an impressive break that led to Meram’s well-taken opener. Jairo Arrieta received a glorious chance to double the Crew’s lead in the 25th minute when Agustin Viana dispossessed substitute Daniel Lovitz at the half way line, and then played in the Columbus striker who evaded Henry’s challenge and fired his shot wide of the post.
The away side struggled to break past TFC’s narrow shape, whereas Dan Paladini pressed Bekker and prevented the Canadian from dictating the match in deep positions. The Crew retook the lead following a Viana header from a corner kick, and that forced Nelsen to react.
The Reds remained in their preferred 4-4-2, but introduced Gilberto and Dwayne De Rosario with 25 minutes remaining. Essentially, all four TFC strikers were on the field, with the former pushing Moore to the right, while De Rosario slotted into midfield alongside Bekker.
Gilberto’s persistence to press and chase loose balls enabled the Brazilian to pounce on Michael Parkhurst’s error and nod the ball into the path of Defoe who leveled the score-line. Subsequently, the Brazilian dispossessed Tyson Wahl in the box and cut the ball back to Defoe on the edge of the box, but the 31-year-old fired a tame effort directly at Steve Clark. Then Justin Morrow dispossessed Ethan Finlay in the Crew’s third, and delivered a cross to the near post that Gilberto cleverly guided into the path of De Rosario, who forced Clark to push the ball over the net.
De Rosario also contributed to TFC’s late surge, as his inch-perfect pass into the right channel saw Defoe get past Wahl, thus forcing the Crew left back to foul the TFC striker at the edge of the box. And in the dying moments of the match, the 36-year-old Canadian shielded the ball – which was poorly cleared by the Crew – and forced Tony Tchani to foul him. Henry nodded Lovitz’s ensuing free-kick past Clark to complete a resilient comeback.
“Today was a great opportunity to seal a result under pressure,” coach Greg Berhalter said. “It was a good opportunity to learn how to win and I’m disappointed that we didn’t do it.”
“Look at the goals they scored. It was simple. We didn’t execute.”
Although TFC have displayed that they can negate the opposition’s offensive threat this season, Nelsen seems light-years away from finding an adequate solution to their poor buildup play.
”To be brutally honest, we didn’t play well today. We didn’t play well at all. Sometimes it was painful to watch [but] the boys kept going and never backed down,” Nelsen said. “We got rewarded for sticking in there.”
Here, Nelsen’s attack-minded substitutions pushed TFC to three points.
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