Ryan Nelsen lost his first outing as a manager but saw plenty of positives Saturday as Toronto FC dropped a 1-0 pre-season Major League Soccer decision to the Columbus Crew at the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic.
“Really happy, really happy with the guys for their first game,” the former New Zealand international defender said. “We only conceded, I think, two shots, the whole game. One was miles away and one was a comfortable save for the ‘keeper.”
“Obviously it’s their first game,” he added. “They’re going to find their legs. New coach, new system. They have to find their way.”
Asked about his first game as manager, the 35-year-old Nelsen replied: “It felt great.”
Marco Di Vaio and Andrew Wenger scored to give Marco Schallibaum a debut comeback win as Montreal Impact coach — 2-1 over Sporting Kansas City. Graham Zusi opened the scoring for Kansas city.
Columbus fielded a strong starting 11, missing only a few regulars against Toronto. It was a more experimental lineup for Toronto with Nelsen, who emptied his bench in the second half to make the afternoon more of a scrimmage.
Toronto looked far more the work in progress, with players often not having many passing options or choosing the wrong one. But the sunny, breezy afternoon contest seemed more about getting everyone minutes than obtaining a result.
And Toronto came close to tying it in the 81st, only to see Terry Dunfield’s header hit the post off an Ashton Bennett cross.
There was a painful moment for Toronto late in the first half when goalkeeper Stefan Frei, diving for a ball, got clipped by the boot of burly Crew rookie striker Ryan Finley, who was booked on the play.
Frei, who had been out since last March with a leg and ankle injury, was down for a while before exiting with a towel pressed to his face. Frei, who was taken to hospital for further evaluation, gave way to Joe Bendik.
“Besides a very bent nose at the moment, we don’t know,” Nelson said of the diagnosis.
Toronto defender Darren O’Dea had no problems with the Finley challenge on Frei.
“He’s been out for 11 months and he was brave enough to stick his head in,” said the Irish international. “If I was a centre forward, I would have stuck my foot in the same way (Finley) did.
“In a strange way, I think that will be a god thing for Stefan. He’ll be fine. ... There was no fault on either part.”
Said Finley: “It was kind of a 50-50 ball ....I hope he’s all right.”
Former German international Torsten Frings made his return from hip surgery as a Toronto substitute in the second half.
Toronto opened with rookies Emery Welshman and Jonathan Osorio in midfield.
The Crew had most of the possession in the first half, but did little with it until the 30th minute.
The breakthrough goal came from Brazilian debutante defender Glauber, who shed his marker on a Frederico Higuain corner in the 30th minute. Glauber angled his header from distance, with the ball deflecting in off the crossbar past the outstretched hands of Frei
“We conceded off a set piece,” said Nelsen. “We haven’t spent much time on set pieces so I’m not too bothered about that.”
Toronto had two good chances via free kicks on the edge of the box in the half, but O’Dea’s shot hit the wall and Luis Silva’s effort as topped by Andy Gruenebaum.
Frei wore the captain’s armband, with the 36-year-old Frings starting on the bench. Frings got the armband back as he entered, from O’Dea.
Brazilian holding midfielder Julio Cesar made his Toronto debut at the start of the second half, as did Argentine midfielder Nicolas Cabrera in the first wave of widespread changes.
Gruenebaum stopped Silva in the 56th minute. The sophomore forward, playing just behind Justin Braun, had a good game.
The games took place at the Wide World of Sports complex, which was also hosting cheerleading and girls’ field hockey tournaments.
The tournament resumes Feb. 13 when Montreal plays the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL and Toronto faces Orlando City Soccer Club of the USL.
Like Toronto, Columbus has been rebuilding.
The Crew (15-12-7) have shed 11 players from last season. Toronto FC (5-21-8) has seen 12 players move on.
New Columbus additions this week included Glauber, Argentine midfielder MatDias Sanchez and former Chicago Fire forward Dominic Oduro. All three started Saturday along with new defensive midfielder Augustin Viana and Finley.
Crew assistant coach Duncan Oughton played with Nelsen for New Zealand.