The statistics are still bleak in terms of wins and goals, but credit Toronto FC with a gritty performance Saturday in a 0-0 tie with the New York Red Bulls.
While hardly a masterpiece, sometimes you take what you can — especially in yet another rebuilding season.
Toronto (2-10-8) pressed in the second half and had the better chances against a team 18 points ahead of it in the standings. Over the final 45 minutes, the home side held an edge in attempts on goal (8-2) and shots on target (3-0).
Watch: Red Bulls 0, Toronto FC 0
Despite having the best of an unremarkable first half, the Red Bulls (9-7-5) failed to impress in their garish blue-and-yellow uniforms.
“We’re slightly disappointed not to win the game, obviously,” said Toronto captain Steven Caldwell, resplendent after the game in a suit, tie, suspenders and argyle socks. “We felt we were the better team. Without creating lots of great chances, we felt we had the one or two that we could have took and we kept their chances to a minimum.
“They had a little flurry at the end but we held strong.”
Added Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen: “There was only one team in it, especially in that second half.”
As the score suggests, neither team offered much up front.
New York’s strike partnership of superstar Thierry Henry and Fabian Espindola, who have 11 goals between them, were quiet, with Henry cruising in and out of the game. Henry had New York’s lone shot on goal, a low shot that Toronto goalkeeper Joe Bendik handled in the early going.
The visitors were more in control in the first half, leading attempts on goal 6-2 and shots on target 1-0.
New York coach Mike Petke did not like what he saw.
“Not impressive, not impressive at all,” he said. “Toronto had the right mentality, we didn’t.
“We play this game on paper we win this game. But this game is not played on paper, this game is played with heart, effort, logic and Toronto had all of those categories today, so in a way I feel fortunate we got a point.”
Toronto’s lack of offence continues to be worrying, however. The club has scored just 17 goals in 20 games.
Toronto has not scored in five hours 36 minutes.
With top strikers Danny Koevermans and Robert Earnshaw out injured, Toronto started Jeremy Brockie (one goal this season) and Justin Braun (two goals) up front. That did not bode well for the league’s 18th-worst offence.
Toronto has been shut out in its last three road games, a goalless drought now at 319 minutes. And Toronto has been blanked in eight of its last 12 outings overall, with just seven goals to its credit during that run.
“It’s always a concern when you’re not scoring but I can’t fault (Brockie and Braun) because they worked so hard,” Nelsen said. “They tried and they got in (scoring) positions.”
Plus the only striker on the bench was Andrew Wiedeman, a 23-year-old who has two MLS goals to his credit. In the second half, New York was able to introduce Democratic Republic of Congo striker Peguy Luyindula, a 34-year-old who scored 37 goals in 179 games for France’s Paris Saint-Germain.
Toronto is expected to bring in attacking help during the current transfer window.
Saturday’s draw extends Toronto’s winless streak to six games. And home fans have not seen a league win at BMO Field since a 2-1 victory over Colorado on July 18, 2012. Since then, Toronto’s league record at its lakefront home is 0-13-10.
Seven of the starters from that game are no longer with the franchise.
Toronto did record a home victory earlier this season, over Sporting Kansas City, but it came indoors at Rogers Centre.
Nelsen pointed to fatigue — it was Toronto’s fifth game in three weeks — and some curious refereeing decision Saturday. Brockie was brought down in New York penalty box in the 22nd minute but referee Jorge Gonzalez did not point to the penalty spot.
Both teams had early goals called off for offside: first Brockie’s tap-in in the 13th minute and then Tim Cahill’s header. Toronto’s non-goal came courtesy of a nice raking cross from Ashtone Morgan.
Toronto also had a slew of dead ball chances in the first half but failed to produce a quality delivery.
The home side finally had a shot on target in the second half, but New York goalkeeper Luis Robles easily handled Bobby Convey’s free kick.
Toronto’s best chance came minutes later after Argentine midfielder Matias Laba, taking advantage of a Red Bulls’ turnover, dribbled into the New York penalty box. He twisted and turned, eventually finding Jonathan Osorio who could not get a shot off in traffic.
Laba was influential for Toronto — Nelsen called his second-half performance brilliant — with Convey also a busy presence.
Robles had to be sharp in the 74th minute, twisting in the air to claw the ball away after a deflected blast from Richard Eckersley.
“It was a great save,” Petke said. “He made a couple key saves, especially that one. The reaction save was great.”
New York is undefeated in its last nine games (6-0-3) against Toronto, dating back to June 24, 2009.
Petke wanted more, however.
“Going into a huge game next week at home (against Western Conference leader Real Salt Lake), coming off a 4-0 thrashing of Montreal firing on all cylinders, then to come here and play like this, I am honestly confused,” he said. “I will throw a cliche out there — it is back to the drawing board.”