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Wileman: Reds' unbeaten run halted; Impact steadies the ship

Luke Wileman
7/9/2012 11:39:54 AM
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It was one step too far for Toronto FC. The Reds' five match unbeaten run came to a shuddering halt as they wilted in the heat of Philadelphia on Sunday and were outclassed by the Union in a 3-0 defeat.

There's no doubt there has been improvement for the team under new leadership, but the result is evidence of the major steps that still need to be taken to get the club on a path of progression through the second half of the season.

The conditions were difficult to deal with, especially as Toronto arrived in Philadelphia off the back of a tricky trip to Texas in midweek, but they never really managed to get going at PPL Park and were undone far too easily by the Union who put on an attacking show in front of their home fans. Philadelphia also had the benefit of Freddy Adu having one of his influential days, and extremely positive performances from talented youngsters Jack McInerney and Michael Farfan

Toronto coach Paul Mariner may be second guessing his decision to start with an unchanged lineup for the third straight match after seeing some of his players unable to cope with the conditions, but as he looks to bring stability to the lineup, it is a difficult balancing act for the former England international.

Under Mariner, the Reds have looked much more of an attacking threat, but their defensive frailties still shine bright. Sunday's defeat was by no means just on the defence as very few players in the TFC lineup managed to affect the game. However, they have conceded 12 goals in his seven matches in charge, with one clean sheet coming in the win at Montreal.

With Adrian Cann sidelined and Dicoy Williams not yet ready for regular action, plus Doneil Henry just returning from a severe allergic reaction, Mariner's options in the middle of defence have been severely limited but it is an issue he knows he has to address sooner rather than later.

Mariner is working hard to bring in a couple of new faces to the club, with a central defender one of the positions he is targeting. It is a broken record. Toronto FC have tried and failed to address the central defensive position on numerous occasions through six years. The team's performances in recent weeks have shown they have the pieces going forward to pose problems for defences in MLS, but at the other end of the pitch there is still much work to be done.

Late Impact

After three straight defeats, Montreal Impact managed to steady the ship on Sunday night as a late penalty from Canadian international Patrice Bernier gave them a 2-1 win over Columbus Crew at Stade Saputo. It was the Impact's sixth win in their expansion season and leaves them four points outside the Eastern Conference playoff places.

It has been a difficult couple of weeks for Impact coach Jesse Marsch who has had to cope without injured central defenders Matteo Ferrari and Nelson Rivas. Having conceded three goals in each of the previous three matches, Sunday's win will taste even sweeter knowing it was achieved with an understrength team that was also without suspended midfielders Davy Arnaud and Felipe.

With each game he plays for his new team, Italian forward Marco Di Viao is forming a greater understanding with the players around him. His first half performance against Kansas City on Wednesday was a joy to watch. His intelligence on the ball is clear to see, he has great vision and oozes quality.

It was ugly for Montreal at home to Toronto and at DC United, and a massive letdown to lose against Kansas City after taking the lead in midweek, but the Impact showed a resilience and never-say-die attitude against Columbus to grind out a win.

"I think this can be a turning point for us, or a mark within our season when our backs were against the wall and we responded," said Marsch after the match.

On a side note, Montreal Impact President Joey Saputo and his staff deserve credit for moving quickly to address the low attendances at Stade Saputo. It's not every day a sports team admits they got things wrong and takes bold action to try and rectify the problem. Hopefully dropping the prices at Saputo will be the answer.

DeMerit's Reward

When Jay DeMerit became the Whitecaps first MLS signing in November 2010, big things were expected of the U.S. international. During his first season with the club, injuries prevented him from being the consistent force at the back that the club had hoped for, but he has certainly made up for that with his performances this year.

The Whitecaps defence has looked extremely solid for much of the season under Head Coach Martin Rennie and DeMerit has played a big part in that. The 32-year-old has led the back line with authority and has played 17 of the 'Caps 18 matches, helping the team to nine clean sheets during that time.

DeMerit's strong performances have been rewarded with his first selection for the MLS All Star team. The former Watford defender has been named in the First XI ahead of the match against Champions League winners Chelsea at PPL Park in Philadelphia later this month. It is deserved recognition for the way he has played during the first half of the year.

While DeMerit has earned the selection for the league's showpiece, the Whitecaps improved form in defence has been a total team effort this season. Another example of the way they are willing to put their bodies on the line to protect their goal came on Saturday night at the Home Depot Center when they kept their latest shut out in a goalless draw at Chivas USA. At times, the 'Caps had to ride their luck, but goalkeeper Joe Cannon continued his excellent season with some good saves.

Martin Rennie has done a magnificent job address the Whitecaps defensive problems, turning one of the league's leakiest defences into one of the best with just 19 goals conceded in 18 matches.

The additions of YP Lee and Martin Bonjour have paid off as the solid base built by Rennie has helped Vancouver into a strong position at the midway point in the season, sitting fourth in the Western Conference with 30 points, two more than they totaled in the whole of their inaugural season. With the Whitecaps eight points clear of sixth place Colorado Rapids, a playoff place is theirs to lose.

MLS on TSN returns on Wednesday, July 11 as Toronto FC take on Vancouver Whitecaps at BMO Field live on TSN at 7pm et/4pm pt on TSN.

Luke Wileman

Luke Wileman


Luke Wileman is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca.

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