When Billy Bob Thornton had his hissy fit on CBC Radio, he famously and dismissively described Canadian music audiences as like 'mashed potatoes with no gravy'. It didn't strike me as ominous at all when I got my pre-match poutine and it was unusually skimpy on the gravy, but that would turn out to be a perfect metaphor for this game.
Toronto FC put out a strong lineup, but never really showed much urgency, which was either a pre determined decision to not expend too much energy, or a sign that they're struggling more than I thought to get some kind of rythym going. It would be fair enough really if TFC never really tried their hardest, they were 3-0 up before the second leg started so didn't really need to push themselves too hard, and to be fair they got the job done, making sure their first leg lead was never in danger of being overturned. FC Edmonton however also seemed to have given up on the game before it started, they didn't put out their first team, and never really looked like a team that was seriously trying to overcome a 3-0 deficit.
It all made for a pretty dull game really, something that resembled a pre-season friendly, two teams just going through the motions. It had all the basics, a pitch, a ball and 22 players, the fries and cheese curds if you will, but didn't have that extra something, the gravy, to turn it into an entertaining game.Things might well be a lot worse for TFC than just having a few thousand cold and bored fans, Alan Gordon, Julian De Guzman and Tony Tchani all left the game injured. We'll have to wait and see if any of the injuries are serious, but Alan Gordon in particular looked uncomfortable as he walked off with what appeared to be a re-occurence of the groin injury that caused him to miss a couple of weeks earlier in the season.
Gordon had been one of the few bright spots for Toronto, once again winning balls and distributing well, and he scored the lone goal, after missing a couple of earlier chances. That goal was created by Joao Plata who was the real star of the show. He didn't really do all that much in the second half, but in the first 30 minutes of the game he was amazing, tormenting the Edmonton defence from the Left Wing. He was running at the defence with pace every time he got the ball, a refreshing contrast to the rest of the team who seemed to be stuck in second gear. It wasn't just aimless running and fancy dribbling either, he judged when to dribble and when to pass really well, creating a few other chances on top of the one that Gordon finally converted and really making a case for a spot in the starting lineup on Saturday against Houston.
There wasn't really much else to take from the game though for TFC. Aron Winter had put out a very strong side in the circumstances, 7 players who played against Seattle were in the starting lineup as well as Tony Tchani who had been suspended, and Maicon Santos and Matt Gold also came on as subs.
If the idea was to have the players practice together, build confidence and get some fluency going, that didn't really work, as there were very few moments that inspired any kind of confidence. At the start of the game it seemed as if TFC were specifically running a 'how to pass the ball out of defence' drill, the first 5 minutes were taken up with slow and deliberate passing among the back 4 and Stefan Frei, and it seemed like as soon as the ball got to midfield it was passed back into the defence to start all over again. Winter had criticised the team after the Seattle defeat for not playing to his instructions and for kicking the ball away long too much, so presumably this was in response to that, but fortunately it didn't last and TFC did eventually manage to get some forward momentum, but even then, aside from Plata's wing play, there really were very few positives to take from the game.
Not only did playing a lot of the first team not really work, it backfired with the injuries and left Winter exposed to criticism for playing his starters in what was effectively a nothing game. You could say he was in a no-win situation as he would have being criticised if he'd played a weaker team and lost, but really, if he didn't have faith in his back up players to hold on to a 3-0 lead, well that really tells you something.
Overall TFC won on the night and moved on to the final, and really quite comfortably, as opposed to Vancouver, who needed extra time to finish off Montreal and even then came within a last minute Ali Gerba header off the post of being knocked out, so it would be churlish to complain too much. However it was another uninspired performance, with very few signs of progress, and if any of the three injured players end up missing time, then there'll be some serious questions asked of Aron Winter.