There’s always a danger of being too reductive when looking at professional soccer, and any attempts to see a 22-man game as a contrast between two performances will almost certainly be too narrow. After Saturday afternoon’s game at BMO Field, however, the difference between Toronto and New York paralleled their main goal-scorers’ performances. Whereas TFC’s Jermain Defoe’s blistering shot in the 12th minute showed the best of what Major League Soccer’s strikers have to offer, a huge miss from Bradley Wright-Phillips cost the Red Bulls. New York fell in Toronto, 2-0, thanks to a late goal from Luke Moore.
Defoe’s fourth goal of the season was reminiscent of his debut in Seattle, where a ball fed into a channel from high allowed him to finish near the edge of the penalty area. This week it was Bradley Orr, pressed into midfield in the absence of Michael Bradley, who found his fellow English league refugee for this devastating finish:
The goal set up a Ryan Nelsen special. While the Reds had some isolated chances late, they didn’t play as if a second goal might be important. Instead, the team played as if trained to flip a mental switch whenever they take a lead, no matter the time on the clock. While TFC didn’t bunker, they certainly seemed very risk averse.
The approach nearly cost them points when, in the 65th minute, Thierry Henry sent a ball through the six-yard box from the byline left of goal. Bradley Wright-Phillips, alone at the right post, had time to square up a five-yard shot before it sailed into the stands, the league’s leading goal-scorer failing to convert after one of the season’s least explicable misses.
Two handball shouts for penalty kicks will also linger in Red Bulls’ memories, but when Jámison Olave was forced to save a second half chance off New York’s line, Toronto appeared as capable of producing the game’s next goal. In the 95th minute, as Luis Robles failed to play a ball he came to the edge of his area of claim, that potential came to fruition, with Moore marking his TFC debut by scoring into a vacated goal.
The score doubled Toronto’s lead, but Wright-Phillips’ miss still looms large, and not only because any goal changes a one-goal game. Had their leading scorer at least come close, the Red Bulls could have rationalized it as bad luck and kept pushing forward. That he didn’t made it even more difficult to accept, seemingly killing their momentum. With Toronto goalkeeper Joe Bednik momentarily injured, the only way Wright-Phillips doesn’t score is if he completely misses goal, yet from five yards out, that’s exactly what he did.
With all the good Wright-Phillips has done this season, it’s hard to dwell one miss. This particular miss, however, helped send New York to its second straight loss. Toronto, on the other hand, snaps its three-game slide.