Real Salt Lake beating Toronto wasn’t the surprise. It was the ease be which they did so. Putting pressure on the visiting Reds from the opening kickoff, the defending Western Conference champions forced a penalty kick within 10 minutes, giving them an early lead. Luis Gil doubled that advantage before halftime, with Álvaro Saborío adding his second 10 minutes after intermission. Before the hour mark, the match was over, making the first loss of Toronto’s new era was a lopsided one. TFC fell, 3-0.
The Reds had a couple of excuses. Against a team that’s so talented through the midfield, Toronto was without two of their midfield starters. Right-sider Jackson was suspended, while central midfielder Jonathan Osorio was held out with an injury. Against the likes of Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy and Gil, TFC’s absences came in the wrong part of the park.
It didn’t help that Ryan Nelsen didn’t appear to adjust for this. On the right, Mark Bloom was moved up from his right back position to take Jackson’s place in midfield. Jeremy Hall, a starter last season, stepped into Osorio’s boots in the middle. The end result was a defensive, passive team that would either stop Real Salt Lake in its tracks or get run over. Toronto wasn’t going to try and play with their hosts.
Unfortunately for TFC’s undefeated record, RSL was never slowed. Within minutes of kickoff, Jeff Cassar’s team proved able to pass their way through the Toronto midfield, backing the Reds into their own penalty area. By the 10th minute, that advantage had forced a penalty on Doniel Henry.
RSL’s second goal required a bit of fortune, apparently deflecting off Henry before it beat Julio Cesar, but given the pressure Real Salt Lake was exerting, Toronto was always susceptible to conceding that type of goal. It’s hard for the breaks to go your way when you don’t have the ball.
The Reds did see Jermain Defore and Michael Bradley find the woodwork, but after Saborío scored his second early in the second half, the game was decided. With the match in doubt for only 55 minutes, the teams would combine for just eight shots on target. Real Salt Lake kept 61 percent of the ball.
For a Toronto team that’s had it relatively easy over is first two games, the result was a rude awakening. While it would have been wishful to predict a win at Real Salt Lake, few could have foreseen such a lopsided game. And as Henry tossed aside Saborío, Justin Morrow leapt through the back of Javier Morales, and Steven Caldwell put a brutal tackle on Grabavoy in the first half, you could see the frustration grow.
It was a sign of immaturity – a team that hasn’t been through “the wars” together. Faced with its first adversity of the season, Toronto elected to “get stuck in,” letting frustration get the better of them. Real Salt Lake, on the other hand, kept to the same approach it’s used for years, confident in its likely results.
Eventually, Toronto should get there, too, but on Saturday in Sandy, we saw why some are skeptical of this super team’s ability to be so super, so soon. They need to take some knocks to learn how to respond. In the face of their first test, the Reds showed they have a long way to go.