April 9, 2007 Toronto FC after first game (from Toronto Star)

Ho-hum start to year for FC

Johnston blames `disappointing' midfield play for loss to Chivas

Apr 09, 2007 04:30 AM

CARSON, CALIF.–With 10 minutes to play Saturday night, Alecko Eskandarian stood 10 yards from the Chivas USA goal with his back to the net and a chance to tie the game if he could knock home a bicycle kick.

The ball floated his way and Eskandarian lined it up and leapt.

And whiffed.

Chivas fans in the end zone whistled in derision as Eskandarian lay on his back, despondent and symbolizing a disappointing opening day for a team and a league.

Toronto FC missed three first-half scoring chances on the way to losing its first-ever regular-season game 2-0 to Chivas.

It was a lacklustre debut for a team that talked with confidence in the days before the game and expected to leave Los Angeles with at least a tie.

"We gave the ball away too much in the midfield, and normally that's our strength," Johnston said. "For me, that was disappointing. The second half we didn't get anything going. The momentum was flipped over to Chivas."

Toronto had early opportunities – bringing a small cluster of Canadian fans to their feet – but Chivas goaltender Brad Guzan denied them each time. He made the save when Edson Buddle tried to head home a Carl Robinson pass. Minutes later, he deflected a 20-yard blast from Toronto's Paulo Nagamura, then smothered Buddle's attempt to score off the rebound.

Meanwhile, Chivas fans banged drums and waved banners throughout the first half. Thirty-five minutes into the game, their team converted its best scoring chance when forward Ante Razov tapped in a pass from Maykel Galindo.

Confetti showered the field as end zone fans unfurled a huge Chivas banner. The sparse but noisy crowd chanted even louder.

Three minutes from the end of the game, Chivas midfielder Sacha Kljestan fired a 20-yard shot past Toronto goaltender Greg Sutton, further energizing the 14,351 spectators at the Home Depot Center.

The game's attendance highlighted a problem for Major League Soccer.

On the league's opening day, its two biggest games played to half-empty stadiums.

Seven hours before Toronto and Chivas kicked off, DC United played the Colorado Rapids in suburban Denver. Officially the 18,000-seat stadium was sold out, but several thousand fans stayed home as temperatures dropped below freezing.

And at the Home Depot Center – where Toronto and Chivas played a game the league had hyped as "historic" – Chivas fans filled the end zones and dotted the lower bowl seats, but the upper deck sat empty.

MLS commissioner Don Garber attended both games and acknowledged that even though Chivas USA was created three years ago to attract Hispanic fans, the league would have to try new strategies to win over that community.

On Saturday, Toronto visits last year's league runner-up, the New England Revolution, and Johnston says his team can't dwell on what happened in Los Angeles.

"For me there were six or seven guys who didn't perform, so I know we can get better," Johnston said. "We can all walk the walk and talk the talk, but today we just weren't good enough."

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