With time slipping away on a gusty, overcast Saturday down by the lake, Toronto FC needed someone to step to the fore.
As he had done for much of the game for a team devoid of its usual household names in the shapes of Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley – both missing through injury - Kyle Bekker took over once again.
Toronto FC had won a free kick on the edge of the Colorado Rapids penalty area in the 76th minute, and the young Canadian international bossed his team’s set-piece execution once again, clipping the ball up and over the defensive wall and flying towards the bottom corner of Marc Burch’s net.
Bekker had no doubt of the outcome as soon as it left his right foot.
“Goal,” he said afterwards of a ball that cruelly crashed against the foot of the right-hand upright instead and was cleared away to safety.
Only safety was the furthest thing from the mind of his team in the immediate aftermath, as Colorado took the ball all the way up the other end, made a mockery of Toronto’s back four and deposited it neatly beyond Brazilian national team goalkeeper Julio Cesar in the TFC net for the only goal of a disappointing afternoon for Canada’s original Major League Soccer club.
To make matters worse, the scorer of the goal was Edson Buddle – the 99th MLS goal of his career – one of four former TFC players named in Colorado’s roster as the 2010 MLS Cup champions returned to the scene of their club’s greatest triumph to register its second straight win north of the border, following on from last week’s 2-1 win over the Whitecaps in Vancouver.
“We knew it was going to be a game where one goal would settle the result, whether it was a mistake or a moment of brilliance,” said TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen afterwards. “To tell you the truth, after watching the second half, I thought there was only one team that was going to win the game.
“It’s the cruelty of football where you hit the post and 30 seconds later the other team scores.”
Bekker had another chance to from a similar situation in stoppage time to earn a point for his team, but his free kick cleared the wall and kissed the angle of crossbar and upright before bouncing behind the goal for a goal kick. But while the game didn’t produce the desired outcome, for Bekker, who was seemingly at the centre of everything that the home side did on the day, it was a second consecutive command performance for the third overall pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, a player that looked lost at times in his rookie campaign.
“I thought he was brilliant today and one of our standout players,” said Nelsen afterwards. “He is showing a high level of maturity which has been showing through his hard work.”
For his part, Bekker is taking nothing for granted and knows he has a long way to go to solidify his place in the first team.
“Just keep building on each performance any chance I get,” he said afterwards. “Keep the passing tight, getting into the ball, winning tackles in the middle and just keep building.”
Given the continued injury problems for TFC, Bekker may have a few more chances to build on his early-season success in the weeks to come. In addition to the injuries to Defoe and Bradley, TFC is also missing midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Alvaro Rey and defender Doneil Henry, while former TFC captain Dwayne De Rosario left Saturday’s game in the 67th minute with a muscle strain. In fact the situation was so dire that injured defender Ashtone Morgan sat on the substitutes bench just to fill out the 18-man roster.
The team’s lack of depth was sorely tested on Saturday, but no one in the TFC dressing room was using that as an excuse following the game.
“Obviously anyone is going to miss them but I think the lads that stepped in did really well today,” said defender Bradley Orr. “The result might mask that a little bit, but if it would have went the other way nobody would have been talking about it.
“Listen, anyone is going to miss that calibre of players, of course. But credit to the lads that stepped in I thought they did a good job.”
On the goal, which saw TFC’s defence cut to shreds by the play of Colorado substitute Dillon Serna and Dillon Powers before Buddle applied the finishing touch, Orr said it was just one of those things.
“I just remember it being a cross field pass and a little bit of a scramble,” he said. “I think the lad’s put it away but at the time it felt like a bit of a miss. When you’ve gone to block it you thought he was opening himself up but he scuffed it the other way.”
Toronto will have to put this game – its second loss of the season – behind it quickly with next Saturday’s test away against the top team in MLS, FC Dallas, looming large on the calendar.
Nelsen will be crossing his fingers that Bradley, so instrumental in last week’s 2-0 win in Columbus, will be on that team sheet, although he is adamant that the decision to leave the American midfielder out of Saturday’s game was the right one long term.
“I hope he will be fit for next week but if he were to play today, there would be a great chance that he would be out for several weeks, months.”