Late rally yields point for TFC in Columbus
Padula own goal keeps Reds unbeaten in 2009 MLS season
03/28/2009 07:04 PMBy Peter Mallett / MLSnet.com Staff
COLUMBUS -- An unlikely late-game error by Columbus Crew defender Gino Padula helped Toronto FC remain undefeated this season with a 1-1 tie at Crew Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Toronto's unexpected equalizer came in the 84th minute through an own goal after a long ball into Columbus penalty area by Reds midfielder Dwayne De Rosario was headed backwards by Padula and eventually into his own net.
Padula attempted to head De Rosario's long bomb behind him and over the crossbar but the ball was short, bounced off the bar, hit goalkeeper William Hesmer and crossed the goal line for a surprise equalizer as Columbus fans looked ready to celebrate a win in their home opener.
While Toronto struggled with long searching balls forward from their backline for much of the game, the Crew and their 2008 MLS MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto dictated the offensive tempo from the opening whistle with short quick passes in the midfield and long crosses into the Toronto penalty area.
Schelotto netted his second goal of the season for the defending MLS Cup champions in in the 30th minute to break a scoreless deadlock.
Schelotto tried to send a hard pass across the penalty area which deflected off the arm of Toronto midfielder Kevin Harmse and referee Michael Kennedy made no mistake in quickly pointing to the penalty spot.
Schelotto showed his deadly marksmanship on the resulting spot kick, blasting his shot down the middle of the Toronto goal with 'keeper Stefan Frei guessing wrong and diving to his right giving the Crew a 1-0 lead.
The former Boca Juniors star, in his third season with the Crew, scored in the Crew's opening 1-1 draw away to Houston last Saturday.
Columbus nearly added to its lead in the 37th minute with midfielder Eddie Gaven's blistering shot from the top of the penalty area struck off the goalpost. Gathering up the rebound, Nigerian midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo took a hard shot on goal forcing Frei into a fingertip save, pushing Ekpo's shot over the goal.
Frei was replaced at halftime by third-year goalkeeper Greg Sutton, after Frei was reported to have injured his lower back on the Ekpo save.
Schelotto was a handful for Toronto's backline of Marvell Wynne, Jim Brennan, Adrian Serioux and Marco Velez throughout the game, providing clever touches and through balls to strike partner Jason Garey and rookie third-round MLS SuperDraft selection Alex Grendi, while Toronto hoped for long searching through balls from defender Jim Brennan and their chant.
It wasn't until the 42nd minute that Argentinean striker Pablo Vitti gave Hesmer his first true test of the match with a hard shot that Hesmer scooped up easily.
In the 53rd minute Vitti stripped Crew midfielder Brian Carroll of the ball at the top of the Columbus penalty area and played a through ball to Chad Barrett, but Barrett's attempted equalizer went wide of goal.
In the 55th minute Sutton was forced to make his first save of the game, stopping a hard shot by Jason Garey with Marco Velez clearing the resulting rebound out of play.
Three minutes later Schelotto provided a pinpoint cross to Columbus defender Chad Marshall but Sutton was on the spot to collect the ball and the Canadian international made a diving save on Garey just moments later.
Toronto began to take the play more to the Crew after the 62nd minute when Johann Smith entered the game for Rohan Ricketts and Danny Dichio entered for Chad Barrett in the 68th minute.
A total of five players were missing from Saturday's match due to international duty. Velez, playing in his second season with Toronto, and Vitti, an offseason acquisition from Argentina's Independiente, made their first starts for TFC on Saturday in place of Welsh midfielder Carl Robinson and Honduras international Amado Guevara.
Midfielder Sam Cronin of Wake Forest started his second consecutive game for Toronto after being selected second overall in last January's MLS Super Draft out of Wake Forest.
Columbus was without three players due to international matches: defender Frankie Hejduk (United States); striker Alejandro Moreno (Venezuela) and midfielder Duncan Oughton (New Zealand).
Toronto FC were winless in six previous meetings against the Crew since their inaugural 2007 season, having tied three times and lost on three occasions while being outscored by a 9-3 margin.
Prior to the match Clark Hunt, the son of late Crew owner Lamar Hunt, presented last year's MLS Cup trophy to the Crew and Schelotto, who won both league and MLS Cup MVP honors.
More than 2,000 Toronto FC fans, making up the team's four supporters groups, made the 8-hour drive to Ohio for the match, causing an electric atmosphere in the stands during the game and parking lot prior to the match.
Toronto plays host to expansion Seattle Sounders FC in their home opener at BMO Field next Saturday, while Columbus travels to Salt Lake City on Thursday for their third match of the season.
Peter Mallett is a contributor to MLSnet.com.
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