July 2011: Turnaround week for Toronto with big wins and key player signings

One of Major League Soccer's most underachieving teams since they joined the league in 2007, Toronto FC had several reasons to be optimistic about their future after the events of last week. They won two games at BMO Field against their Canadian rival, the Vancouver Whitecaps, the second victory opening the door to play in the CONCACAF Champions League. Toronto also signed two marquee players - German International Torsten Frings and Dutch striker Danny Koevermans in an attempt to bolster their abysmal record, seventh-place showing and lackluster attack.

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Aron Winter is Torsten Frings’s new coach at Toronto FC. The Dutchman is a former international of the Netherlands. (Photo: GettyImages)


In a mid-week MLS clash, Toronto climbed out of last place in the Eastern Conference with a 1-0 win over the Whitecaps on Nick Soolsma's penalty kick that ended a nine-game winless skid. Vancouver rested several starters for the weekend’s Voyageurs Cup Final encounter for the Canadian Championship and a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League.

The gamble did not work out. Toronto won the game 2-1 and their third consecutive championship on aggregate after playing to a 1-1 tie in the first leg in Vancouver. Camilo Sanvezzo's free kick gave the Whitecaps a 21st-minute lead, but the hosts bounced back as 19-year-old Ecuadorean forward Joao Plata, named the tournament Most Valuable Player, equalized with a penalty kick in the 51st minute. He also set up midfielder Mikael Yourassowsky’s winner 10 minutes later.

“Wednesday was really good for us,” TFC goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “We got the win which gave us the confidence but also we knew there was a positive vibe with the two new guys coming in. That gave us some confidence, so going down a goal that really didn't hurt us too much.”

As the second lowest scoring team in the league - 17 goals in 19 games - Toronto needs as much firepower it can find. "It’s very important that every line has a leader,” he said. “Up front we’ve got Danny Koevermans, in midfield we have Torsten and now we are looking for someone at the back and then it’s very complete for us.” Toronto FC head coach Aron Winter and special team advisor Juergen Klinsmann worked their European contacts to import the two veteran stars. 

Injuries to several players, most notably defender Adrian Cann and forward Alan Gordon, forced Winter to shift lineups constantly and play younger players. Frings should provide the kind of steely presence in the middle of the park that de Guzman was supposed to bring when he signed on nearly two years ago. The former Werder Bremen defensive midfielder will have his work cut out for him trying to shore up the team's shaky defense, which has the league's worst goal differential (-12), having given up a league leading 29 goals in 2011.

“The main thing was because Juergen Klinsmann was my coach at the 2006 World Cup on the German national team and that was a big thing for me," Frings said. "He explained everything pretty good about Aron Winter, about the whole club, about the system and the board. That was very interesting, so that convinced me.”

Despite having missed the playoffs in each of its first four seasons in the league, Toronto ranks fifth in attendance average with 19,665 in their 21,800 capacity stadium. With just 3 wins, 7 losses and 9 draws, the team currently has 18 points - two points out of a play-off spot, which is clearly the team's goal for the season.

Another draw after Red Bulls make roster changes

Playing without both of their designated players, former French international striker Thierry Henry (flu-like symptoms) and Mexican central defender and captain Rafa Marquez (hamstring injury), the New York Red Bulls managed a 2-2 draw at the San Jose Earthquakes. Estonian international midfielder Joel Lindpere, who called out his teammates after a lackluster 1-1 tie with the Chicago Fire last week, scored the first and last goals of the encounter, the second in the 85th minute. Khari Stephenson and Steve Lenhart tallied for the Earthquakes. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe, who also missed the game, watched the game from his New Jersey residence after undergoing mid-week surgery for an unspecified ailment.

FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake keep pressure on Los Angeles

FC Dallas became the first team to reach 10 victories with a 2-0 win over the Columbus Crew. Dallas midfielder Brek Shea struck for his fourth goal in as many games and eighth on the season in the 58th minute at Pizza Hut Park. Brazilian defender Jackson gave the hosts some breathing room with his third goal in as many matches in the 76th minute.

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Brek Shea scored his eighth goal of the season and his fourth in a row during the 2-0 win of FC Dallas against the Columbus Crew. (Photo: GettyImages)


In one of the wildest matches of the season, Real Salt Lake twice came back from deficits, including a two-goal disadvantage, to register a 3-3 home draw with the New England Revolution. Fabian Espindola scored the equalizer in the 83rd minute. RSL played 64 minutes a man down as Nat Borchers was red-carded for fouling U.S. international midfielder Benny Feilhaber on a controversial play in the third minute, setting up Rajko Lekic's penalty kick a minute later. Chris Tierney added a 16th-minute goal before the hosts found themselves. Canadian international Will Johnson scored unassisted eight minutes later and Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio tied it up with a penalty kick of his own in the 56th minute. But this one was far from finished as yet another international, Grenada’s Shalrie Joseph gave the Revs a 3-2 advantage seven minutes later. New England’s Ryan Cochrane was red-carded in the 67th minute to even up the sides.

Only 18 minutes into his pro debut, Los Angeles Galaxy rookie goalkeeper Brian Perk saved Freddy Montero's penalty kick as he recorded a shutout in a scoreless tie with Seattle Sounders FC played at The Home Depot Center. LA extended its unbeaten streak to 11 games, while the Sounders stretched theirs to seven. English international midfielder David Beckham, hampered by slight stress fracture in the spine, came on as a 68th minute substitute, but his presence could not help the home side find the back of the net.

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Goalkeeper Brain Perk made his debut for Los Angeles Galaxy at the 0-0 draw with Seattle Sounders and saved a penalty after 18 minutes. (Photo: GettyImages)


Kansas Citygets third road win in another week dominated by draws

Sporting Kansas City, which will host the majority of their remaining games in their new stadium, Livestrong Sporting Park after playing their first 10 matches on the road, recorded a 2-1 away win at the Portland Timbers. C.J. Sapong (15th minute) and Aurelien Collin (19th minute) connected early before Portland rookie Darlington Nagbe scored a spectacular goal, his first as a pro in the 45th minute. Nabge trapped a ball that KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen had punched away. He then juggled it twice with his right foot before firing a shot into the upper far post.

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JJimmy Nielsen of Sporting Kansas City has no chance against the shot fired by Portland Timbers’ Darlington Nagbe after juggling the ball. Kansas City won 2-1. (Photo: GettyImages)


The Chicago Fire continued to rack up ties as they registered their 12th this season, a 1-1 draw at Chivas USA. After Chicago forward Dominic Oduro scored his fifth in the 26th minute, midfielder Nick LaBrocca leveled the match two minutes into the second half. Chivas USA forward Alejandro Moreno was on international duty with Venezuela at Copa America.

Guatemalan striker Carlos Ruiz kept the Philadelphia Union atop the Eastern Conference, connecting in the 84th minute for the equalizer in a 2-2 draw at DC United. In his DC debut, De Rosario set up Josh Wolff's goal in the 44th minute. After Honduran Andy Najar's 35-meter strike gave United the lead in the 59th minute, Ruiz performed his heroics, sliding Sheanon Williams' right-wing feed past goalkeeper Bill Hamid from five meters.

In a rather undistinguished match, struggling defending champions Colorado Rapids played the Houston Dynamo to a 0-0 home draw that helped set a league record for futility with 20 scoreless draws so far the season. The previous record was in 2009 when MLS teams played to 19 0-0 ties during the regular season.

MLS's frequency of 0-0 ties is higher than those of Europe's major leagues. It already has more scoreless draws than the Bundesliga had during the entire 2010-11 season
.