Toronto FC showed off its good and bad Saturday as a team still under construction closed out the MLS regular season, rallying for a 2-2 draw with the New England Revolution.
There were giveaways, defensive frailties and costly blunders at set pieces. There were also some fine saves and moments of attacking flair, with Dutch striker Danny Koevermans coming to the rescue with a late goal — his eighth in 10 games.
Saturday's game, on a blustery fall afternoon before an announced crowd of 21,600 at BMO Field, was a matchup of the eighth- and ninth-place teams in the Eastern Conference. And not surprisingly, it was no thing of beauty.
But a wild ending added to the entertainment value while producing a tying goal for the home side.
“I think everybody is going home happy,” said Koevermans. “I don't think the coaches agree with me now but I think 2-2 is fine today.”
Toronto coach Aron Winter called the performance “a little bit flat” coming after the high of a 3-0 win in Dallas earlier in the week in CONCACAF Champions League play.
Dutch forward Nick Soolsma opened the scoring for Toronto (6-13-15) before French midfielder Monsef Zerka and Argentine forward Milton Caraglio replied for New England (5-16-13).
Caraglio's goal came one minute into the second half and looked to be enough for a New England win until Koevermans tapped in a long ball from substitute Gianluca Zavarise.
Brazilian midfielder Benny Feilhaber set up both New England goals, taking the corner for the first and providing the pass for the second.
Winter lamented his team's costly mistakes, noting before the corner that led to Zerka's goal that “we lost the ball for nothing.”
Winter will look back on a season that saw him tear the roster apart. His team began to take shape for real in mid-July when he brought in designated players Torsten Frings and Koevermans.
“The last three months, we have improved a lot,” Winter said. “The results, the way how we've played.”
“Next season you can start with a good team, fresh team,” he added. “And of course some pieces are missing in the roster. But those things, we have now the off-season to think about it.”
Winter declined to identify where he needed to strengthen his team. But he is not finished refining his roster.
“I'm going to make some changes but I don't like to say (how many) numbers.”
Defence will no doubt be a priority on a team that lost centre backs Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams to injury.
Toronto gave up a league-worst 59 goals, with the backline so rickety that Winter moved Frings back from his role as holding midlfielder to play sweeper in a bid to help stem the goals.
On the plus side, Toronto has advanced to the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals — the 16th-best team in MLS joining the top two teams (Los Angeles and Seattle) in the final eight.
Toronto finished out of the playoffs for the fifth straight year, with its MLS all-time mark now standing at 40-67-47 in its five seasons. And statistically the 2011 record was two points worse than last year's 9-13-8.
Frings sees the TFC glass as half-full.
“The team got a lot better throughout the year . . . Next season be a lot better,” he said through an interpreter.
TFC thanked its fans for their patience in a full-page ad Saturday.
“At times it hasn't been easy, but your support has a profound impact in helping us succeed on the pitch,” Winter wrote.
“The future is bright,” he added.
Koevermans could be a large part of that. When healthy, he has shown a great touch in front of goal.
“He needs (just) one opportunity to score,” said Winter. “In the moment when it is necessary, he is there.”
Said Frings: “He hangs back all game, then in the right moment he's there and he scores his goal.”
Koevermans and Frings emerge from their half-season with respect for the North American league.
“I didn't expect that much,” Koevermans admitted. “But everybody's such an athlete, everybody's so quick, everybody's so strong. And this league has a good level.
“Some people in Europe think it's some sort of a Mickey Mouse league. And it's so not true. There are good quality players in this league and you can't underestimate this level in this league.”
Frings called the MLS a fast, physical league “but it's not quite the same as the European leagues, of course.”
Winter has rung in the changes in his nine months in charge.
Only defender Ty Harden and Soolsma remained in the starting lineup from the 11 used in the season-opening 4-2 loss to Vancouver.
The only regular missing from Saturday's starting lineup was fullback Richard Eckersley (hamstring).
Winter stuck with Kocic in goal, relegating Stefan Frei to the bench again.
“I wish we won (Saturday), but at the end of the day it's the season we didn't get results in,” said Kocic. “I'm hoping it's going to stay in this season — the bad results, the bad set pieces that we conceded all the goals on.”