Usually, the third time is the charm.
For Toronto FC, it was the tenth, as they were the better side throughout in besting the Union 1-0 Saturday at BMO Field to earn their first points of 2012.
The battle of Eastern Conference’s worst two teams was decided by substitute Danny Koevermans, who pounced on a rebound to tap home in the 88th minute. Were it not for the poor finishing of Toronto’s Ryan Johnson and the heroics of Union third-string goalkeeper Chris Konopka, it could have been far worse for the visitors, who only registered one shot on goal over the full 90.
With Zac MacMath still suffering the effects of the concussion symptoms that have plagued him in recent weeks and Chase Harrison’s ankle failing to respond to treatment, Konopka stepped between the pipes for his second career MLS start. Gabe Farfan returned from injury to round out a Union back line that retained Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams and Raymon Gaddis.
In midfield, Gabriel Gomez’s injury kept him from making the trip, while Keon Daniel was also missing from the eighteen. Filling their places were Freddy Adu, back from his suspension, and Kai Herdling. Michael Farfan moved up to the midfield, replacing Michael Lahoud.
Up top, Danny Mwanga and Lionard Pajoy continued in a tandem that hoped to wreak havoc on a Toronto back line well known for conceding early and often.
But if the plan was to attack from the get-go, the Union did not show it. Toronto was the hungrier side from the opening whistle. With both sides trying to impose themselves on the match, it was the home team who nearly jumped out to an early advantage.
Taking a free kick quickly in the center circle, Torsten Frings pushed the ball forward to Reggie Lambe who raced in from the right wing to force a smart save by Konopka. The Union keeper was unable to push the ball behind, however, and Lambe got a second bite of the cherry, driving the rebound dangerously across the face of the goal.
All three strikers were finding space among the Union defenders, with Toronto’s midfielders failing to meet any resistance as they looked to pick out their teammates.
In the tenth minute, it was Johnson’s turn to get in on the act as the Union turned the ball over in the midfield through Herdling and Pajoy. Quick to counter, Johnson latched onto the pass as he streaked in from the left, but skewed his shot wide of the target.
The Union were under siege as Gaddis went in the book a minute later for scything down Plata near the endline.
On 14 minutes, Johnson again squandered a gilt-edged opportunity as a flicked on corner fell to the completely unmarked striker just outside the six. With the Union defense scrambling, Johnson rushed his volley, again powering it wide.
With Frings and de Guzman bossing the midfield, Toronto owned the center of the pitch, and the Union’s few attacking forays were well seen to.
Looking out of sorts and struggling to defend Plata while carrying a yellow card, Gaddis was removed in favor of Michael Lahoud in the 37th minute.
Three minutes later, the former Chivas USA man would be called upon to save the day when Michael Farfan misplayed the ball allowing Frings to slip in on goal. Working hard to recover, Lahoud nipped away Frings’ effort, and the Union were again handed a respite.
Adrian Cann nearly had Toronto on the board in the final minute of the first half, but his header off of Frings’ free kick delivery flew narrowly wide of Chris Konopka’s near post. The Union had to be happy to escape the first half without having conceded.
Intent on making a better start in the second half, the Union were the brighter side out of the tunnel, with Herdling firing just wide following a smart build-up from Pajoy and Adu.
Next it was Michael Farfan getting into the offensive act as his 35 yard-blast rattled the crossbar.
Finally bringing the pressure expected in the first half, the Union pressed higher and higher, with Danny Mwanga charging down Milos Kocic’s clearing attempt. Doing the thankless work of occupying both center backs, Mwanga threw his body into his work and nearly earned a reward for his effort in the 56th minute when Herdling’s free kick delivery eluded his outstretched toe by the thinnest of margins.
Moments later, Mwanga almost found himself alone on goal after he won the race to a poor back pass, but Doneil Henry’s last ditch sliding tackle found just enough of the ball to keep referee Juan Guzman from pulling out his whistle.
Despite the growing pressure by the Union, they were nearly undone by a traditional weakness: Set piece defense. Having earned a corner from a counter attack, Konopka had to get down quickly to smother Henry’s powerful header after Henry shook free of Danny Mwanga in the 63rd minute.
As both teams sought out the eventual winner, it was end to end, with Toronto earning 4 consecutive corners before Michael Farfan fired the Union’s first shot on target in the 75th minute.
A mistake from Brian Carroll nearly gifted Toronto the opener. The midfielder failed to claim a simple cross, allowing Frings in alone on Konopka. Aggressive as ever, Konopka rushed off of his line, cut down the angle and denied the German international from close range.
But with only two minutes remaining, the hosts would have their reward. With both Union center backs failing to adequately clear their lines, the ball made its way to Michael Lahoud who swung and missed at his clearance gifting possession to Toronto’s Nick Soolsma. Racing towards the endline, Soolsma beat Lahoud with a pass in to Koevermans whose first flicked effort was denied by Konopka. But with the keeper prone, the Dutch international’s second effort found the back of the net, bringing 2012′s first points to Toronto.
Chris Konopka; Raymon Gaddis (Michael Lahoud ’37), Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes, Gabriel Farfan; Brian Carroll, Michael Farfan, Freddy Adu, Kai Herdling (Antoine Hoppenot ’65); Lionard Pajoy, Danny Mwanga (Josue Martinez ’83)
Unused Substitutes: Amobi Okugo, Brian Rowe, Greg Jordan, Cristhian Hernandez
Milos Kocic; Jeremy Hall, Doneil Henry, Adrian Cann, Ashtone Morgan; Torsten Frings, Julian de Guzman, Luis Silva (Nick Soolsma ’70); Joao Plata (Danny Koevermans ’63), Ryan Johnson, Reggie Lambe (Richard Eckersley ’54)
Unused Substitutes: Junior Burgos, Terry Dunfield, Ty Harden, Quillan Roberts
88 – TOR: Danny Koevermans (Nick Soolsma)
11 – PHI: Raymon Gaddis (Caution)
29 – PHI: Lionard Pajoy (Caution)
30 – TOR: Ashtone Morgan (Caution)
43 – TOR: Julian de Guzman (Caution)