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article imageUndefeated TFC finds balance in home opener win over D.C. United

By Tyrrell Meertins     Mar 23, 2014 in Sports
Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley stole the headlines once again in Toronto FC’s slender 1-0 win over D.C. United at BMO Field.
For the first time in franchise history, TFC has won their first two games of a Major League Soccer season. Despite the frigid weather, and a poor excuse of a field that looked more suitable for a recreational soccer game, Ryan Nelsen’s side dug deep in front of approximately 22,591 optimistic fans.
Nelsen made one change to his starting lineup introducing Gilberto upfront alongside. Nelsen’s side dropped into two banks of four when D.C. sustained possession, thus limiting space in midfield for the away side to exploit. Alvaro Rey and Jackson protected their full-backs admirably, while Bradley and Jonathan Osorio were solid in midfield.
Osorio displayed a sense of maturity in his overall game: he was confident on the ball, eager to break up play with key tackles, and he broke forward in search of an opening goal. His midfield partner was equally impressive. While D.C. held a numerical advantage in midfield, Bradley’s proactive pressing ensured that Perry Kitchen played simple passes in midfield.
“I don't think D.C. broke us down very often at all,'' Nelsen said. ''And you look at our chances we had to score.”
Ben Olsen’s side failed to cope with TFC’s direct runs from midfield, plus Defoe and Rey’s movement in the final third. Rey and Gilberto’s pace and trickery tormented Olsen’s back-line on numerous occasions, but the former lacked the decision-making and quality in the final third to harm D.C.
Rey constantly drifted infield into pockets of space to receive the ball, and confidently evaded ensuing D.C. challenges. Defoe, on the other hand, pestered the away side’s back four with his movement around the box. Defoe’s runs into the near post, and his ability to find space within the final third contributed to his match-high seven shots, but his poor finishing kept the score line levelled.
The major factor in TFC’s home opener success was their defensive organization. Similar to last week’s performance in Seattle, Steven Caldwell and Doneil Henry negated Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola’s threat upfront. The balance between Caldwell’s experience and Henry’s athleticism was beneficial, as the duo comfortably nullified D.C.’s strike-partnership. Espindola was forced to drop deep in search of possession, and his overall threat in the final third was minimal. Likewise, the duo shackled Johnson, as they prevented the American from holding up play at the edge of the box with their timely challenges; Henry completed a match-high 10 interceptions.
“It's a pleasure playing beside him,” Caldwell said. “I think we complement each other well and hopefully we can keep getting better and better and obviously clean sheets are important so it's a real bonus to get one today.”
Apart from two situations in which Julio Cesar made routine saves, D.C. failed to get behind TFC’s back-line. Caldwell and Henry’s positioning was outstanding, and they equally displaying their superiority in aerial duels as they coped with every ball played into the box.
However, it was fitting to see Defoe’s winner built through the overall balance showcased in TFC’s performance. Caldwell won possession at the half-way line with his proactive defending, and played a pass to Osorio, thus leading to Bradley playing a ball over D.C.’s defence towards Gilberto. Bill Hamid made a great save to deny the Brazilian, but Bobby Boswell’s poor clearance fortuitously fell to Defoe, who slotted the ball into the net.
“We’re very good. We’re very well organized, and you haven’t seen the best of us. And you won’t see the best of us because we’re still new. That was the first time Gilberto and Jermain played together. Jonathan [Osorio] and Michael [Bradley] are still learning together … They’re all new and it takes time. So we will evolve as a team, especially with the ball. But the pleasing thing is we look solid and we’re finding ways to win,” Nelsen said.
The conditions of the BMO Field pitch deprived those in attendance of an opening day spectacle, but Defoe’s goal ensured that TFC supporters left the stadium smiling. Defensive solidity and variety in attack created a lethal balance on the day, and it can prove to be the catalyst in TFC’s quest for their first playoff appearance.
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