At half time on Saturday night, both of Canada's Major League Soccer teams were winning on the road without conceding a goal. That shouldn't really be something to brag about, but after watching almost a full season of struggles away from home for both Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps, it was at least a sign of some progress.
While the Whitecaps eventually had to settle for a 1-1 tie against New York Red Bulls and still remain winless on their travels, Toronto FC created history by beating rivals Columbus Crew for the first time since joining MLS in 2007. It was Toronto's first win on the road since October 2010 and the first time the club has ever scored four goals away from BMO Field in a league match.
Columbus looked poor, but Toronto FC took advantage, playing an attacking game on the road that has rarely been seen through the first five years of the franchise. Although the win comes at a time when the club is too far off the playoff places for the three points to have any great implication, it is more evidence that the squad is moving in the right direction following the wholesale changes that were made in the middle of July.
Toronto FC has now played eight league matches since head coach Aron Winter changed the look of his struggling squad. After defeats against Dallas and Kansas City in their first two matches with the new team, Winter's men have lost just once in their last six, picking up two wins and three draws. Aside from the results, Toronto's long suffering supporters are finally getting a glimpse of the attacking game that was promised when Winter took charge of the team in January. Prior to the changes, Toronto had scored only six goals in 10 road games this season. Now they have scored 11 in their last five. They are still far away from being able to contend on a regular basis with the league's elite, and defence remains a problem, but Saturday's win in Ohio against the top team in the Eastern Conference is certainly a sign of improvement.
Chiumiento or Hassli?
The top moment of Vancouver's tie in New York was a stunning goal from Davide Chiumiento. Created by a magical run and cut back by Brazilian Camilo, the Swiss midfielder shot on the turn into the roof of the net. It was a goal that highlights the attacking flair within Vancouver's squad that must be seen on a more regular basis next season. In any other season, Chiumiento's strike would probably have been named the club's Goal of the Year, but not this year.
There's a discussion ongoing as to whether his goal was better than Eric Hassli's wondergoal in Seattle last June, but I don't think it's even close. That's not to take anything away from the great build-up play by Camilo and the fine finish to the fast paced flowing move that was applied by Chiumiento, but Hassli's goal was in a class of its own. It was improbable. It was almost impossible. 999 times out of 1000 it wouldn't have happened.
Major League Soccer is still getting over the shock death of one of its most popular figures. Former FC Dallas player Bobby Rhine died of a suspected heart attack at the age of 35 while on vacation with his family last week. His loss leaves a massive hole for FC Dallas and the league as a whole. Bobby represented Dallas as a player and continued to play a big role at the club following his retirement three years ago, working in both community development and broadcasting. His love of life and of the game of soccer was evident for all to see. In his most recent role as the FC Dallas play-by-play commentator, Bobby's enthusiasm and positivity shone through his work and helped him become one of the top broadcasters in the league. There aren't many players in sports these days who commit over a decade of service to one club, but Bobby was no ordinary person.
I have had many great conversations with Bobby on trips to Dallas. It was always easy to see his love for the club and his desire to help grow the game of soccer in Texas and across North America. There wasn't a club untouched in MLS by Bobby's death, and the large number of tributes that came pouring in after the news was made public goes to show just how many lives he impacted. From current and past teammates, to members of the broadcast community and fans he spent time talking with, the tributes were widespread. A tweet from Landon Donovan summed up the thoughts of many across the close-knit soccer community: "I'm sick to my stomach. He was a great player and an even better person."
Major League Soccer needs more characters like Bobby. The World needs more people like him. In the coming days, the thoughts of the North American soccer community will continue to be with the family Bobby left behind.