So how did game 1 of Toronto FC's latest brave new world go? Both new Designated Players in the team, along with three other new players, that must mean an improvement right? Well no, at least not right away it didn't. I said beforehand that I expected a fairly sloppy game form TFC as they get used to each other, with FC Dallas being more than good enough to take advantage, and that's pretty much exactly what we got. Dallas scored once, an absolutely fabulous goal from the ridiculously coiffured Brek Shea, but they really could and should have scored a lot more, only poor shooting and passing at the end of moves keeping the score down, only 3 out of 20 (20!)shots were on target.
A lot of that was down to poor play from TFC, especially the defence. Andy Iro showed a couple of glimpses of what he can bring, but also showed a wide arrray of poor touches, panicky passes and general confusion. Eddy Viator wasn't much better, looking alarmingly rusty and not on the same page as the rest of the team at times. The other two, well Danleigh Borman and Ty Harden played their usual game, and we all know that's not necessarily a good thing
In midfield, Torsten Frings looked great, but Nathan Sturgis and Mikael Yourassowsky ranged from mediocre to disastrously bad, Yourassowsky's horrible touch allowing Brek Shea to easily take the ball off him and setting him off on the run that led to the goal. Up front, Danny Koevermans looks like he's stil got work to do to get fully fit, and Ryan Johnson really really needs to work on his crossing, sending over all sorts of overhit attempts from the left, while Joao Plata seemed to spend the entire night trying to run through defenders rather than around them.
So, a bit of a shitshow at times, pretty depresssing right? ,No not at all. It wasn't really about the result today, and surely no-one could have expected much performance wise immediatley after all the changes. Today was about seeing signs of hope, seeing how the next incarnation of TFC might look when they've had chance to at least learn each other's names. those signs of hope do exist, they really do.
I won't try and sugarcoat the defence, other than to say that Andy Iro definitely showed that he can do the big physical presence thing well. He looked about as comfortable with the ball as I would out there, but that will improve with familiarity of what his teammates are doing you'd hope. One positive for the future is that Richard Eckersley will be back, which will make things better on the right, and allow Viator to switch to Centre Back, so that's two upgrades right there.
Up front, Danny Koevermans had a very Maicon Santos kind of game, not really showing much at all, except for out of nowhere he unleashed an absolute rocket of a shot that Kevin Hartman just saved. Getting a full 90 minutes in will help him though, and with better fitness and more familiarity with his teammates to come, I'm very optimistic of improvement there. I mentioned Ryan Johnson's horrible crosses, but on the bright side, he did well down the left to get into position to put those crosses in, as well as putting in a decent effort defensively
Today was all about the midfield though, and no I'm not talking about Sturgis and Yourassowsky, they are what they are, which is not really good enough to be starters, when Dunfield and De Guzman come back from injuries, they can replace those two and be dramatic improvements. Who I am talking about is Torsten Frings, who looked really really good out there. Taking charge, directing play, making tackles, he did all of that exactly as advertised. His corners and free kicks could be improved, but that's a minor quibble in what was a very impressive game. Everything for TFC went through Frings, seriously, check out the chalkboard on MLSSoccer.com and look at his heat map, he was everywhere. the thing that most impressed me was his passing. Simple, effective and most of all, distinguishing him from most TFC players, quick. The pass that started the move that Joao Plata scored from but was correctly called offside is a perfect example, no time needed to control the ball and figure things out, just straight away a simple ball into space down the left, and that was was what made the difference to give TFC the space needed to build the attack. Like other players, he's still getting to know his teammates, and presumably isn't fully fit yet, but that right there was the most impressive performance from any TFC DP ever.
If he can continue playing at that level, and I have ever confidence that he can, and more, then he can be the player that TFC revolves around. With just 3 midfielders, TFC will often be outnumbered, so having a dominant Central Midfielder to take away that imbalance, as well as be there to link the passing game from defence to attack will be crucial. At the start of the season I said that Julian De Guzman would need to play very well in that role if TFC were to have any chance. Even his biggest fan would admit he hasn't been good enough, last night, Frings showed that he can be. TFC has a lot of work to do, but it seems like at least one huge piece of the puzzle has been found, and that right there is cause for hope.