Exploratory drilling: at Toronto 1, Liverpool 1

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TORONTO – Toronto FC and Liverpool swapped second half goals in front of a heavily pro-Liverpool crowd, with 33,087 people looking on as the opening match of Liverpool’s North American tour ended 1-1.

Players of Note:

  • Alberto Aquilani made his Liverpool return (having spent last season with Milan). Although he did little to stand out, Auilani looked comfortable moving around in Brendan Rodgers’ system, multiple times showing at the level above Charlie Adam, helping the team transition into attack.
  • 19-year-old central defender Stephen Sama, a former Borussia Dortmund product, looked very comfortable on the ball for Liverpool, willing to dribbling into midfield rather than play force passes to stationary teammates. The Cameroon-born German also made two nice clearances.
  • Raheem Sterling, who has been rumored to be going out on loan, came on at halftime and immediately started troubling the right side of Toronto’s defense. The 18-year-old attacker did the hard work on Liverpool’s goal, drawing defenders and the `keeper to leave an easy chance for Adam Morgan.
  • Back playing against Premier League competition, Richard Eckersley put in a strong half for Toronto, highlighted by his 43rd minute block on Daniel Pacheco, thwarting Liverpool’s only chance of the half.
  • And Torsten Frings provided the class in midfield for a Toronto team that held more of the ball than may have been expected. A number of nice chips to the flanks from his sitting position helped TFC establish their presence in the final third.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • The first half was uneventful, with a seventh minute chance for Toronto standing in isolation until Liverpool threatened two minutes from half time. When the managers made wholesale changes at intermission, the exhibition became defined by substitutions more than action. The teams combined to make 27 changes, 26 of those coming in the match’s last 45 minutes.
  • An early change saw Ashtone Morgan brought off in the 27th minute. He didn’t seem hurt. Why bother playing him at all, if he’s not going to al least make it to half time? Perhaps it was a compromise between coach and player.
  • As expected Liverpool played 4-3-3. And as expected, there was a lack of fluidity, undoubtedly caused by players’ lack of familiarity with the system.
  • Liverpool started a number of players who’ll see action with the first team this year: Jamie Carragher, Jose Enrique, Charlie Adam and Jay Spearing. Spearing was part of the problem in the first half. Although he performed well in defense (doing well to break up a building attack in the seventh minute), he played so deep that him teammates, when thwarted while building down the flanks, had nobody to serve as an outlet in midfield.
  • Daniel Pacheco, on the left flank, had a disappointing half. Going up against Doneil Henry, he could have used his speed to generate more chances. Instead, his half was defined by poor passing, giving the ball away needlessly in the final third twice late in the half.
  • For Toronto, there was no Eric Hassli (acquired only yesterday), leaving Ryan Johnson and Luis Silva up top. Johnson curiously played the deeper role in attack, leaving Silva to try to make his mark playing along the shoulder of the last man. It was a reversal of the roles you’d expect the players too perform. Johnson moved into positions to receive the ball in transition. Combined with his tendency to drift left, he spent most of the first half in non-threatening parts of the park.
  • In the second half, Toronto opened the scoring when Liverpool goalkeeper Peter Guhacsi blocked a shot right into the path of Quincy Amarikwa, the TFC sub putting the home side up one in the 58th minute. Liverpool responded 11 minutes later with Adam Morgan’s goal, one of the last scoring opportunities of the match.
  • With 17 minutes left, Lucas Leiva, whose season ended last year with a knee injury was brought on to applause from the crowd. By then, however, there was nothing left in the match.
  • And Joe Cole made his Liverpool return, a mostly anonymous one. He was a forgetting man until second half stoppage time (though he came on at intermission). Then, after he’d switched from right to left, he took a ball just inside Toronto’s half, and dribbled toward the area. Once there, be skied a cross out of play for a goal kick, earning a smattering of boos from Liverpool supporters. Were the boos for the effort? Or a response to Cole’s shorts, which hung slightly lower than usual? If Liverpool’s going to keep Cole, fans are going to have certain expectations. Hike `em up, Joe.
  • For Toronto, it was a good showing, particularly by the kids and reserves that played the second half against a few of Liverpool’s senior players (Martin Skrtel, Cole, Leiva, and Jonjo Shelvey). For Liverpool, it was a start.