Reds unable to overcome 1-0 deficit in Puerto Rico

08/04/2009 10:28 PM
By Mark Polishuk / MLSnet.com Staff

Ali Gerba and Toronto FC were shutout by the United Soccer Leagues' Puerto Rico Islanders.

Ali Gerba and Toronto FC were shutout by the United Soccer Leagues’ Puerto Rico Islanders. (AP)

Toronto FC couldn’t find the back of the net against the Puerto Rico Islanders in a 0-0 draw at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in Bayamon, Puerto Rico on Tuesday night. The draw doomed the Reds to an overall 1-0 defeat on aggregate in their two-legged CONCACAF Champions League qualifying round series.

Toronto needed a two-goal margin of victory or a one-goal margin of victory with more than one goal scored in order to win the tie, or a 1-0 win to ensure extra time. But scoring of any kind proved to be impossible for the Reds against a stout Islanders defense and another strong showing from Puerto Rico goalkeeper William Gaudette.

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Despite outshooting Puerto Rico 37-17 over the two games (20-11 on Tuesday night), TFC’s inability to score over the 180 minutes brought their first Champions League excursion to a close.

Puerto Rico now advances to the group stage of the Champions League, where they will face the Columbus Crew of MLS, Costa Rican side Saprissa and the winner of the qualifying tie between Cruz Azul and Herediano. The Islanders reached the semifinals of last season’s CCL, losing to eventual finalists Cruz Azul on penalty kicks.

Amado Guevara returned to the TFC lineup after missing two games with a rib muscle injury suffered on July 25 in Columbus. Guevara took the place of Chad Barrett in a starting XI that was otherwise the same as last Saturday in New England.

Puerto Rico made two changes to the lineup that collected a 1-0 win in Toronto last Wednesday. Petter Villegas replaced Sandy Gbandi in the midfield, while striker Kendall Jagdeosingh (who scored Puerto Rico’s only goal against TFC in the first leg) began the game on the bench. Nicholas Addlery lined up as the Islanders’ lone striker.

The first 10 minutes featured little more than a blocked Islanders free kick and a long bomb of a shot from just past the midfield line from Puerto Rico scoring leader Christian Arrieta. The Reds had a decent chance in the sixth minute when Marvell Wynne crossed to Dwayne De Rosario in the middle, but De Rosario’s header went wide.

TFC threatened on a pair of Ali Gerba free kicks that the Canadian striker blasted towards the goal. On the first, Gerba sent a rocket of a shot just left of the net from 35 yards out. A booking to Puerto Rico captain Noah Delgado led to the second free kick, and Gerba again fired a hard shot to the left of the net that required a diving stop from Gaudette.

The game began to assume the same style as the first leg, as Puerto Rico played a defense-oriented style to clog the midfield and prevent Toronto from scoring an all-important goal. The Reds generated a good chance in the 28th minute following a nice run by Wynne deep down the right side of the field. Wynne got the ball to Pablo Vitti, whose shot was blocked before it could reach either Gaudette or the goal.

Toronto’s long passes began to find their targets in the latter minutes of the first half as the Reds put a bit of pressure on the Islanders with constant shots, if not particularly challenging ones for Gaudette to stop. Gerba and De Rosario combined for three shots on goal, with De Rosario’s latter attempt a long-range shot from about 30 yards away that took a deflection in front of the net and got Gaudette’s attention.

Both sides showed a bit more spark as the second half began, knowing that a goal could either even the tie or possibly clinch it. The best chance in the early minutes came from Guevara, who launched a hard shot from in front of the net that forced Gaudette to leap to tip over the net with his outstretched hand. The Puerto Rico ‘keeper was forced to another jumping tip save on Vitti about 10 minutes later on the Toronto striker’s close-range header.

Chad Barrett entered the game for Sam Cronin in the 58th minute, as TFC interim head coach Chris Cummins looked to add more of an offensive spark in search of the critical equalizing goal.

With Toronto pouring on the pressure, Puerto Rico switched to a virtual 9-1-0 alignment in order to just hold guard against TFC and make only rote attempts at a counter-attack strike. Even with the opportunity given to just focus on scoring, the Reds couldn’t quite convert. De Rosario had space and position for a shot in the 68th minute, but his attempt sailed over the net.

Danny Dichio came on as a fresh-legged substitute for Guevara in the 74th minute as the Reds continued to push. The veteran striker nearly capitalized soon after entering the match when he got a ball at his feet in front of the net, turned, and fired a shot that clanked off the right post.

The Islanders added to TFC’s frustration by gaining possession within Toronto’s end as the minutes ticked down in the match. Puerto Rico midfielder Jonathon Steele gave Reds ‘keeper Stefan Frei a rare bit of work on the night as Steele’s 20-yard shot required a jumping save from Frei to knock the ball over the bar.

As Toronto began to press on attack again, the Reds caught an advantage. Jagdeosingh, who came on as a substitute for Addlery in the 77th minute, was shown a straight red card from the referee and sent off with two minutes remaining in regulation time.

With the extra man, TFC’s only chances in stoppage time were a high shot from Nick Garcia, a corner kick that couldn’t find anyone in the box, and a late header from Barrett that went wide.

Toronto FC heads home for an international friendly against Real Madrid on Friday at BMO Field, and then enjoy an eight-day break before their next league match, August 15 against Eastern Conference rivals D.C. United.

Mark Polishuk is a contributor to MLSnet.com

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