If we wanted to see Toronto’s season as a step forward-step back process, it wouldn’t be difficult to find support in the Reds’ results. Ryan Nelsen’s team opened the season with a convincing win at CenturyLink before staying the source with a home win over D.C. United. They were given a lesson in Sandy, Utah, before providing a teaching moment of their own at Columbus. It hasn’t been purely up and down, but it has been inconsistent – the type of run you’d expect from a team still learning how to play with each other.
That inconsistency manifested as a lack of drive on Saturday, where a stalwart Colorado held a Michael Bradley-less Toronto at bay for 77 minutes. Then, scattering the Reds’ defense after playing from right-or-left, Colorado went up through Edson Buddle, the veteran striker’s score holding up for a 1-0 win in Ontario.
It was the third time this year Colorado had come back on the road to get a result, but with Toronto again missing a slew of starters, it’s tempting to play what if. What if Bradley wasn’t rested? Or Jermain Defoe wasn’t still out with hamstring problems? What if Doneil Henry, Alvaro Rey, or Jonathan Osorio had been in the team?
Given how tight Saturday’s game was, it’s easy to say the result could have gone Toronto’s way. But it’s also easy to see this as another learning experience for a developing squad. Not only do players like Kyle Bekker (who was good, again), Jeremy Hall, and Issey Nakajima-Farran need to get accustomed to the expectations of a contending club, but the squad needs to take advantage of the opportunities presented. Over the first hour of this match, shorthanded or not, Toronto had a chance to take control.
Instead, much as Vancouver did against the Rapids, the Reds allowed their guests to stay close enough to steal it, but whereas last week it took a red card and two José Mari blasts to put Colorado on top, Saturday required only one piece of execution. Thanks to the effort of Dillon Serna, a nice cutback from Dillon Powers, and the poaching of Buddle, Colorado claimed its second straight road result.
That’s a testament to the talent Colorado has in its squad. Though the first hours of its trips to Vancouver and Toronto didn’t look like potential wins, the number of options in Pablo Mastroeni’s squad came through. Last week, it was Mari with two bombs from distance. This week, it was Serna, Powers, and Buddle sending Toronto’s defense spinning for the winner.
For Toronto, the result is just part of the process. Though games like those against Seattle and Columbus hint everything can happen at once, there will be setbacks. The absence of Michael Bradley proved a significant one on Saturday.