Apr 6, 2014, 12:16 AM EDT
Major League Soccer’s final perfect side has fallen, with a hamstrung Toronto FC overcoming the absences of Jermain Defoe, Jonathan Osorio, and Steven Caldwell to take a somewhat surprising 2-0 result out of Columbus. Then again, with Michael Bradley in tow, perhaps the result shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The U.S. international, coming off a big night on Wednesday against Mexico, is starting to make the league his own, helping his team overcome its slew of absences to claim its third win of the season.
Granted, his team did take some its lumps last Saturday at Real Salt Lake, but quietly, Bradley was still very good at Rio Tinto. This week, against a second straight tough challenge, Bradley took matters into his own hands early, going five-hole in the 11th minute on Steve Clark for his first goal since returning to Major League Soccer.
From there forward, the match reportedly played out as you would expect a Crew-TFC game where the Reds claim an early goal. The Crew dominated possession but often saw a Bradley-led midfield create chances and get into transition. As the game went on and Toronto became more conservative, Columbus was able to push its guest toward its own goal, yet Júlio César was still relatively untested. Despite some late pressure, a punch on a Bernardo Añor direct kick may have been the Brazilian’s biggest test of the match.
Late, after Ryan Nelsen had brought on reinforcements, TFC sprung the counter that sealed the game. Set up by Álvaro Rey, Issey Nakajima-Farran scored his first Major League Soccer goal in the 85th minute, giving the Reds their 2-0 result.
Given how these teams matched up and who was missing for Toronto, the result is a bit of an eye-opener. Columbus should have been expected to use their numbers and skill in midfield to take a better, earlier control of play. But in the rare case early goals don’t change matches, great players do. On Saturday, Toronto had both.
They also had a steady performance from their understudies in central defense. With Caldwell and Doniel Henry both out, Bradley Orr and rookie Nick Hagglund started in the middle, levying Toronto with a potential weakness. But that weakness never materialized. Instead, one week after conceding three times in Utah, Toronto kept its second clean sheet of the year, going joint-top of the Eastern Conference in the process.
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