Toronto FC: 3 takeaways from disappointing draw vs. D.C. United

Check out some takeaways from Toronto FC’s calamitous 2-2 draw against D.C. United in their MLS is Back Tournament opener.

For a spell on Sunday, July 12, it looked as if this match might never happen. In retrospect, Toronto FC might wish it never did.

After a D.C. United player tested a positive for COVID-19 and a Toronto FC test was deemed inconclusive, the match, and quite frankly, the entire MLS is Back Tournament, was called into question.

Thankfully, a second round of tests came back negative across the board, and the match kicked off early Monday morning. Here’s a look at three takeaways from Toronto FC’s 2-2 draw with D.C. United.

Here are some quick takeaways from the match.

1. A dream start, a nightmare finish

For 60 minutes of this morning’s match, TFC looked like world-beaters. Down to their third choice at striker and without the creative prowess of Jonathan Osorio, a look at the lineup card pre-game didn’t inspire goals. But once again, Ayo Akinola proved he is up to the task.

Making just his third start in MLS, Akinola created the Reds’ first goal out of nothing, when he split two D.C. defenders with an absolute rocket of a shot to the far left corner of the net. Then, just before halftime, Alejandro Pozuelo took advantage of some shoddy defending to fight off two challengers, and deliver Akinola’s second goal on a silver platter. When D.C.’s Junior Moreno received his second yellow card just a few moments later, the stars seemed to be aligning for TFC. Little did they know, their morning was about to get a whole lot worse.

With the three points seemingly under lock and key, Toronto FC got away from playing their style of soccer, favouring laying back and playing keep-away over continuing to come forward and attack. When Federico Higuain brazenly chipped Quentin Westberg to pull one back for D.C., it was too late for TFC to ratchet back up their intensity. A booming free kick sent in by Felipe was met by the head of Steven Birnbaum, who sent it on to Frédéric Brillant, who sent it to the back of the net. Three points became one, and a brilliant start from TFC went by the wayside.

2. Substitutions will dictate this tournament

For about 20 minutes, it looked like a stroke of genius from TFC manager Greg Vanney. In the end, however, Vanney’s decision to sub off three quarters of his back line sunk Toronto FC. Two goals up against a ten-man side, Vanney deemed it safe to remove Justin Morrow, Omar González and Chris Mavinga, replacing them with Richie Laryea, Eriq Zavaleta and Laurent Ciman.

A miscommunication between Zavaleta and Ciman led to the first D.C. goal, and a set-piece fiasco in the box led to the second.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and the situation in which Vanney removed his best defenders did seem safe at the time. But the communication issues brought on by replacing your two central defenders at the same time was critical in TFC’s meltdown.

Love it or hate it, MLS has afforded teams five substitutes (as opposed to the usual three) for the duration of the MLS is Back Tournament. Now more than ever, fresh legs and touchline tactics will decide outcomes.

3. Pablo Piatti’s all in

Pablo Piatti likely didn’t envision himself making his TFC debut at 9 a.m. in front of exactly zero fans at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Disneyworld during a global pandemic, but at this point, he might be willing to take anything he can get.

Coming off of a torn ACL suffered while playing in Spain, Piatti was further hampered with a strained hamstring upon his arrival in Toronto.

On Monday morning though, Piatti looked as unimpeded as can be.

Piatti flew around the pitch against D.C., making energetic forward runs, popping up immediately after being fouled, and celebrating vigorously with Ayo Akinola following Akinola’s first goal.

He was welcomed to the bench with a mélange of shouts and applause when he was subbed off in the 73rd minute, as both the reserve players and the coaching staff recognized what it meant to him to be back on the pitch, happy and healthy.

Next: Time to cut losses with Jeremy Bracco

What did you think about the opening match? What does TFC need to change ahead of their next match against the Montreal Impact? Let us know in the comments below. 

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