All set to close the gap between themselves and first place on Sunday in a game against last-place Toronto, the Salsa failed to prepare for one small thing:
Toronto, 6-11, buried deep in the APSL standings, kicked the Salsa all over the place in a 2-0 victory before 1,784 at Cal State Fullerton.
"It's really disappointing," said Salsa forward Paul Wright. "I hope we didn't take them lightly, but it looks like that might have been the case."
Something certainly was up. The Salsa, 9-4, had climbed into second place behind Vancouver. They had whipped Toronto, 5-0, in May. They had won three consecutive games, and everything was going their way.
And then Toronto devoured the Salsa.
The Salsa's ballhandling and passing was very inefficient.
And Toronto collected one goal before halftime, one afterward and went home smiling.
For one thing, Wright thinks the Salsa have been scheduling too many exhibition games. There have been six exhibitions since the APSL season opened May 1, most of them against international teams.
"It takes a toll on us," Wright said. "It takes our concentration away from what we're trying to accomplish. As players, we're trying to win the league. But it's distracting when you have Mexico (and other teams) coming in.
"It takes a toll on our bodies. We're playing twice as many games as anyone else."
Asked if he wished the Salsa would stop scheduling so many exhibitions, Wright paused.
"That's not my decision," he said.
Even Coach Rildo Menezes admitted the exhibitions are draining.
"Playing on Saturday and Sunday is too much," he said. "If we played exhibitions on Wednesday, OK. But the problem is dates--we have to put them where we can."
Sunday's game looked like an exhibition.
The Salsa had heard about Hector Marinaro. They were well aware that he was named APSL player of the week last week and they zeroed in on him as Toronto took the field. But they couldn't prevent Marinaro from bumping in a header at the 36-minute mark. It came on a crossing pass from Amadeo Gasparini and made it 1-0, Toronto.
A short while into the second half, Toronto made it 2-0. Midfielder Fernando Aguiar found himself alone on a breakaway and knocked in a goal at the 56-minute mark to make it 2-0.
It was disheartening for the Salsa because, only about two minutes earlier, goalkeeper Ian Feuer had stopped Toronto's first breakaway attempt, venturing 10 yards in front of the goal to snuff out Kevin Holness' fast-break effort.
That kept the Salsa close, but poor passing, overall sluggishness and the Toronto defense were too much.
The Salsa plays another home game Sunday, against Colorado at 4:05 p.m., before a two-game trip at Montreal and Toronto the following weekend. . . . With two exhibition games added to their schedule, the Salsa will be busy next week. In addition to Sunday's game against Colorado, the Salsa will play Pumas, a team from Mexico's First Division, Friday in Santa Barbara, return home for the Colorado game, and then play another exhibition with Pumas at Cal State Fullerton on Aug. 3. . . . Entering Sunday's game, Salsa forward Paul Wright led the APSL in scoring with 21 points and teammate Paulinho was second at 19.