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article imageToronto FC's Defoe shines as quick transitions sink Red Bulls

By Tyrrell Meertins     May 17, 2014 in Sports
Jermain Defoe’s week couldn’t get any worse. The Toronto FC striker was named a stand-by player in Roy Hodgson’s 30-man England provisional squad earlier this week, as his World Cup dreams are on the cusp of being shattered.
Here, however, Defoe posed several problems against a feeble New York Red Bulls defence in the first half. One of the key reasons involving Ryan Nelsen’s preference of the 4-4-2 is the potential partnership between designated players Gilberto and Defoe, and the latter’s all-round performance upfront exemplified his significance to the Toronto club.
The 31-year-old has lived up to expectations scoring four goals in all competitions. The Reds’ attack was based around quick transitions –– the aim to immediately exploit disorganized back-lines once possession is regained –– and it enabled Defoe to drift into key areas in the final third. Nelsen’s side dispossessed the opposition in their half, and Defoe’s movement created passing lanes for his teammates to play balls into his path.
In the span of three minutes, Dax McCarty conceded possession twice to Alvaro Rey and Bradley Orr –– who slotted into midfield for Michael Bradley who is currently away on World Cup duty –– with the latter creating Defoe’s opener. Orr broke up play in midfield and played an inch-perfect pass into the path of the 31-year-old striker, and Defoe fired a venomous shot past Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles.
Defoe continued to torment Mike Petke’s defence with his movement as Orr slid another sumptuous ball into the striker but the England international was ruled offside. The 31-year-old kept tight to his defensive marker and slyly peeled away to create a passing lane, and Kyle Bekker’s cross-field diagonal pass allowed Defoe to strike another shot on goal, but the ball sailed over the net.
Although the Reds struggled to retain possession –– a recurring issue that Nelsen’s side currently faces –– the Red Bulls’ sloppy passing and TFC’s proactive pressing enabled the home-side to stretch Mike Petke’s defence. Nonetheless, Defoe was superb –– his movement created passing lanes for his teammates to exploit through attacking transitions, and his clinical finishing handed TFC the lead.
“Jermain’s movement off the ball made it easier for me. It’s that good, it’s world class. As soon as I made the interception he was off running behind the defenders, so the credit goes to him,” Orr said.
With Doneil Henry dropped to the bench following Wednesday night’s performance against the Vancouver Whitecaps, and Bradley away on international duty, Nick Hagglund and Orr retained their place in the starting line-up. Hagglund formed a centre-back partnership with Steven Caldwell, while Orr sat behind Bekker in a midfield duo.
Apart from Bradley Wright-Phillips’ horrific miss inside the six-yard box, the away side didn’t create any legitimate goal-scoring opportunities. This was down to the Red Bulls’ inability to penetrate or exploit space between the lines, Hagglund and Caldwell’s imperious performance, and TFC’s discipline without the ball. According to, Hagglund completed a game-high six interceptions, while Bekker and Orr completed three.
Likewise, Jonathan Osorio’s role on the flanks was also pivotal. The Canadian international drifted infield to assist Bekker and Orr in closing down spaces, and he provided an additional passing outlet to aid TFC forward. The latter’s versatility saw Nelsen place him in midfield over Jeremy Hall, and he provided the defensive cover TFC has lacked in midfield this season, and Bekker received freedom to facilitate positive passes around the pitch.
Equally, Bekker’s influence increased in the second half. The Oakville native’s cross-field pass to Osorio ignited a terrific move that saw the 21-year-old play a lovely ball in half-space for the overlapping Mark Bloom, and the right-back’s low-cross fell to substitute Daniel Lovitz, but Jamison Olave cleared his effort off the line. Subsequently, Bekker dispossessed Ruben Bover and Luke Moore picked up the loose ball before playing a timid pass to the Canadian international, but he curled his effort inches wide of the net.
Robles and Chris Duvall’s miscommunication led to a freakish goal in the dying minutes of the match, but it epitomized TFC’s strengths. A simple Joe Bendik lofted ball saw the aforementioned teammates collide at the edge of the Red Bulls box, and allowed Moore to tap in his first goal for the Toronto club.
“For us, it’s a tale of two halves,” Petke said. “First half, we were behind the ball a bit. We gave them a lot with our terrible passing and they capitalized on it with a goal.
“Second half, we had more of the ball and just couldn’t find the equalizer. We had some pretty clear chances. And then, sure enough, late in the game, we push everyone forward and they get the second goal.”
Nevertheless, Nelsen’s team selection was justified, as Hagglund was solid in defence, and Orr ensured Petke’s men didn’t penetrate space between the lines. Ultimately, it was a well-rounded TFC performance, as quick transitions exploited the Red Bulls’ defensive frailties, with Defoe’s opener setting the tempo of the match.
Defoe’s exclusion from the England squad appears to be TFC’s gain.
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