Here are three things we learned from Toronto FC’s 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire at BMO Field on Saturday.
1. VAR confusion
After a game in which referee Alan Kelly put his hand to his ear to consult the video assistant referee on at least four occasions, views on the system varied in the TFC locker room.
Reds coach Greg Vanney was deeply frustrated. He complained that while Toronto had seen a goal chalked off after a video review, Nemanja Nikolić’s position on the Bastian Schweinsteiger header that got Chicago back in the game was discussed by Kelly and the VAR but not watched back by the referee himself.
Vanney thought Nikolić was offside and interfering with the players around him.
“I think he has to review that,” Vanney said. “I think he’s offside. He certainly took his time to review ours — I think that would be respectful to do the same for us.”
TFC captain Michael Bradley was also unhappy. He did not point to a specific decision, but suggested there is a complete lack of understanding as to when and how the VAR is to be used.
“I have no idea what… nobody has any idea what VAR is,” Bradley said. “When it can be used, when it can’t be used. Sometimes it has to be clear and obvious, sometimes it doesn’t. Some things are checked, some things aren’t. Checks take five minutes… it’s a joke.”
Asked if he feels there is widespread frustration among players as to how VAR has been implemented, Bradley added: “I don’t know, I don’t know. That’s a good question. I can only speak for myself.
“I feel like there’s, by and large, a group of guys in here… not even just talking about today, when you watch games from around the league, there’s just no clear understanding of, again, when it can be used, when it can’t, how is it used, why sometimes it takes five seconds, why sometimes it takes five minutes. It’s hard to understand in a lot of ways.”
Jonathan Osorio, who scored TFC’s first goal, said he was in favor of the use of a VAR but feels it is being relied upon by officials too frequently.
“I don’t really understand it 100 percent yet,” Osorio admitted. “I think it’s good to get the right call. Okay. But I think VAR comes in when things… when it’s a clear mistake, or something that’s really clear. Something that’s close… I think also that, you know, these refs are getting paid to do a job. You’ve got to let them ref the game. It can’t be a VAR every goal. If not, let’s create a robot to ref the game, then. Because we can do that, in this age, I’m pretty sure.”
2. TFC will figure it out… eventually
There is a lot to like about this Toronto team.
The Reds have been to the Concacaf Champions League final. They came closer than any MLS team that has gone before them to winning the continental championship. And in this game against the Fire, what was already a potent attack last season looked even deeper and more varied with the likes of Sebastian Giovinco, Ager Aketxe and a vastly improved Osorio combining.
Early on, the match had the makings of a rout.
But little details keep holding TFC back. Since the start of the season a multitude of factors including tough weather conditions, poor fields, individual errors, questionable refereeing and a lack of finishing have cost them results.
So it was again here.
There is more than enough quality for Toronto to comfortably return itself to the playoff picture. Vanney’s team is, after all, only three points worse off than it was this time last year.
Apr 28, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Chicago Fire forward Elliot Collier (28) tries to get around Toronto FC midfielder Marco Delgado (18) during the first half at BMO Field. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
But there are also things that may continue to get in the way. Veteran defender Drew Moor has been ruled out for some time, per The Athletic. Jozy Altidore, Eriq Zavaleta, Chris Mavinga and Justin Morrow are also sidelined. And the troublesome BMO Field pitch will not be relaid until the end of his stretch of five home games in six.
Then you start to wonder how the gruelling Champions League run will affect the team later in the year, when TFC’s key men have more minutes in their legs than many of their peers.
There is no reason to panic: Toronto just has too much quality. But there is no denying that the points are starting to matter, now, too: battling through the absences to take a decent haul on home turf over the next month will be important.
3. Schweinsteiger’s best and worst on show
The Bastian Schweinsteiger, centerback experiment did not last long here.
TFC took full advantage of the legendary German midfielder’s tendency to drop deep in Chicago’s back three early on, with Giovinco dashing behind the defense and beyond Schweinsteiger to set up the Reds’ first goal.
After a flurry of early Toronto chances and two goals, he was moved up the field.
From the more familiar station, Schweinsteiger was influential. He was involved in the penalty won by the Fire — though he was fortunate not to be penalized for a foul on Bradley — before scoring Chicago’s first and assisting Alan Gordon’s equalizer.
The Fire’s defensive group is undoubtedly in need of work. But sacrificing the creativity Schweinsteiger brings in the final third to have him attempt to solve that problem feels like a waste of his talents.