TORONTO—Toronto FC nearly hung on for a most memorable victory over their powerful opponents, the LA Galaxy, but had to settle for a 2–2 tie in the biggest match of their brief history, played in front of just over 47,000 soccer fans at the Rogers Centre on Wednesday night.
TFC held a 2–1 lead until Landon Donovan equalized in the 89th minute. It was a tough pill to swallow for Toronto FC who had bravely defended their one-goal lead for nearly 60 minutes.
“In the end, we were unlucky,” Toronto FC head coach Aron Winter said. “Overall the players have done fairly well. The atmosphere was fantastic. [My] compliments for the crowd.”
The Toronto FC faithful were primed to give their side a big boost. They pelted David Beckham with streamers as he took his first corner and jeered his every move, including a stumble on the worn artificial surface.
Despite the Galaxy’s star-studded lineup with Robbie Keane, Donovan, Beckham, the MLS Cup champions were missing central defender Omar Gonzalez, who tore the ACL in his left knee in January.
Without their designated player Julian de Guzman, fellow DP Torsten Frings would have to carry a heavy load for Toronto FC. The German international took a deep-lying role as TFC basically played with a five-man back line.
But Frings, in addition to keeping things under control from the backline for TFC, orchestrated Toronto FC’s early two-goal lead.
Jamaican Ryan Johnson got TFC’s first with a well-placed left-foot volley off a carefully chipped corner kick from Frings. Then, only six minutes later, Toronto FC’s first-round pick in the 2012 MLS Super Draft, Luis Silva, placed a header just out of the reach of Galaxy keeper Josh Saunders.
The LA Galaxy have plenty of experience on their side and didn’t panic. Just over 10 minutes later, defender Sean Franklin sent in a hard cross that TFC keeper Stefan Frei could only tip. The cross found Mike Magee at the far post who tapped it into the open net. LA then tightened the screws on TFC, but the home side held on nervously.
The intensity of competition picked up in the second half as a couple of incidents sparked some pushing and shoving and even the two benches started gesturing and pointing at each other.
LA came close on a number of opportunities from the likes of Keane, Buddle, and Donovan. Koevermans nearly poked home a high ball in the top of the six-yard box at the other end.
As the match wound down, and tempers started flaring, Beckham took another one of his corner kicks after being pelted once again by the Toronto FC fans. But this time, Landon Donovan pounced on a loose ball in a scramble to even the score 2–2 in the 89th minute.
“We haven’t played together. It’s going to take some time,” said LA coach Bruce Arena about his team’s performance.
When asked about who would be his man-of-the-match, Arena said, “Landon Donovan’s an obvious candidate.” Donovan nabbed the winner in the MLS Cup final in November and came up with what could be a crucial equalizer against TFC.
The return leg goes next Wednesday to Carson, Calif. The LA Galaxy will be glad to be back home where they won the MLS Cup in November.
It will be a monumental task for Toronto FC to get a win in Carson, but their terrific performance at Rogers Centre doesn’t rule that out.
Winter said at the end of his press conference, “I saw a lot of good things.”
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