Jagdeosingh capitalized on Frei’s blunder to rifle home a second half goal to make the USL-1 side firm favorites going into next weeks decisive leg of the CONCACAF Champions League.

Jul 29, 2009 10:41:23 PM

MLS SuperDraft: Stefan Frei (Toronto FC) with Don Garber (Commissioner) (MLS/Tom Gannam)

Toronto FC lined up for its first ever continental match against the Puerto Rico Islanders of the USL-1 without midfield linchpin Amado Guevara. Sam Cronin slotted back into a midfield berth after his stint with the United States national team on Gold Cup duty as Pablo Vitti looked to provide the invention that the team generally relies on the Honduran to produce. Emmanuel Gomez was given the nod ahead of Marco Velez and Adrian Serioux in central defense.

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The Islanders welcomed back their regular back line and goalkeeper William Gaudette after they had been rested in the 4-2 reverse at Vancouver on Saturday. Last seasons semifinalists are third in the USL-1 standings behind the top two teams only on goal difference. Clearly the more experienced side, they entered BMO field confident of progressing to the group stages.

First Half

The first and best chance of the half fell to the visitors as the ball sat up nicely for striker Kendall Jagdeosingh, but his volley went wide when he looked odds on to open the scoring. That chance off the very first attack set the tone for the Islanders, who dominated proceedings early on. Then Christian Arrieta found himself unmarked from a deep free kick, but his header was off target.

Ali Gerba’s strength produced a half chance for Cronin, but he scuffed his shot. Vitti tried to impose himself on the game, his consummate dribbling giving Cronin another chance to shoot from long range, but he failed to test the keeper. Gerba once again held the ball up well, allowing Barrett to put in a good cross to the back post where Dwayne De Rosario ghosted in behind the defender, but his header went narrowly wide. While Chad Barrett flourished in his role on the left wing with probing crosses, in midfield, however, Toronto struggled to string two passes together.

Islanders FC was playing well: closing down opponents and keeping possession efficiently. Jonathan Steele was all over the park, commanding the midfield battle. Despite being full of running and extremely talented, Jagdeonsingh was not endearing himself to anyone with his constant antics. He would demand fouls and yellow cards whenever he was outmuscled.

As the half wore on, TFC started to assert more influence on the game. De Rosario and Gerba almost combining for a defense splitting one-two. Toronto won a succession of corners that failed to trouble the USL-1 side. Then Gerba barely failed to get on the end of a tantalizing cross from the right and later his appeals for a penalty were turned down as he was bundled inside the box.

A beautiful move down the left hand side embarrassed Toronto’s defenders. Islanders captain Noah Delgado’s quick change of direction inside the box left both Marvell Wynne and Gomez on their backsides. However the subsequent cross was blocked as Toronto flooded its box with numbers. Despite being the better side for most of the half, the Islanders were content to bide their time like a seasoned side in this format of the game. However, such early theatrics threatened to ruin the game as a spectacle for neutrals and fans alike. Nil-nil at half time.

Second Half

At the start of the second half, Gerba nutmegged Nigel Henry and was through on goal, but he rushed his shot when he could easily have taken another couple of touches and the ball blazed over. Toronto applied the pressure early in the half, but both Cronin and Barrett show a reluctance to shoot.

Gerba latched onto the end of a Cronin header. Two yards from goal, he failed to make adequate contact with the ball and Gaudette blocked the effort on the line. It was a terrific opportunity that really should have produced the game’s first goal as Cronin had delivered a pinpoint header deserving of a finish.

A fantastic team move involving Gerba, De Rosario and Marvell Wynne gave Cronin plenty of space inside the area but his cross-shot narrowly missed the upright. A little later Wynne floated in a deep cross after patient build up from TFC, Gaudette misjudged it and was happy to see the ball miss the target as he scrambled back.

With 67 minutes on the clock, a huge blunder from Stefan Frei gifted the Islanders a goal against the run of play. Frei came out to gather the ball, but got nowhere near it. Jagdeosingh first shielded the ball, and then turned around swiftly to rifle it into the unguarded net with Frei hopelessly out of position. It was an invaluable goal for the Puerto Rican side as it scores from its first real attack of the half, making it 1-nil to the visitors.

Toronto looked to mount an offensive, but the visitors had all ten-outfield players defending. O’Brian White replaced Barrett, who had produced some fine crosses, in the 74th minute, just as goal scorer Jagdeosingh was replaced by Nicholas Addlery. Gerba finally put the ball in the net after incisive one touch passing opened the Islanders up. However, his effort was ruled out for offside, much to the consternation of the home support.

The biggest cheer of the game was reserved for the yellow card issued to Gaudette for time wasting with ten minutes remaining. With TFC throwing numbers forward, they became susceptible on the counter. A two on one followed, but Islanders failed to make the most of it, slowing the ball down and allowing Toronto to get back.

De Rosario blazed a free kick over the bar with five minutes left on the clock. Toronto Coach Chris Cummins threw on Danny Dichio for the remainder of the game, hoping he could make the difference. Wynne tried his luck with a long-range volley with his weaker foot but despite a sweet connection, missed the target.

A quickly taken free kick from De Rosario found Jim Brennan inside the box with space to shoot; however, a diving Gaudette saved his strike spectacularly. The goalkeeper produced his second superlative save in quick succession, denying Dichio after the striker had outmuscled his marker to get his head to another De Rosario delivery.

Gaudette’s heroics ensured the Islanders would head back for the home leg needing just a draw to progress to the group stage. The Islanders had been the better team in the first half but were outplayed by Toronto for the majority of the second half, yet they secured victory. Frei’s horror show may well have scuppered Toronto’s hopes for a first ever appearance in the CONCACAF Champions league.

Toronto will take on New England Revolution in a pivotal match in the MLS at the weekend before heading to Puerto Rico for the return leg of this qualifying tie.

The Islanders are firm favorites to progress with the advantage going into the return leg at home. They will also be fresh, as they don’t resume USL-1 duties until after the return leg.

Talha Zaheer is the Toronto correspondent for Goal.com

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Edwin Jusino
Director Ejecutivo de FutbolBoricua.net. Actualmente estudiante de Historia de las Américas en programa combinado Maestría/PhD de la Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, Recinto Metropolitano. Lleva más de una década cubriendo el fútbol de Puerto Rico. Actualmente está trabajando su disertación doctoral sobre el pasado presidente de la FPF, el Dr. Roberto Monroig. Hincha del Club Atlético de Madrid y de la Selección Nacional de Fútbol de Puerto Rico. Puede contactarle via twitter o Instagram en @erjusinoa