After a somewhat stuttering start against Orlando City, and with barely over a week to go until the big game at the Skydome, Toronto FC got back into pre-season action tonight against Swedish team BK Hacken, which judging by their shirts is Swedish for Nascar. The main sponsor, BRA, right across their chest did amuse my inner adolescent, but really I'm just disappointed they didn't have a Getafe style Burger King mask on the inside of their shirts for their goal celebration.
There were a few changes to the team that played against Orlando, but it was once again a very strong starting lineup put out, and there were some good performances that make guessing the first XI a little more challenging, as well as re-opening the whole 4 or 5 at the back debate. Torsten Frings was back between the Centre Backs for this one, a change which after a rough first 20 minutes or so led to a much more potent attack, as Ashtone Morgan and Richard Eckersley were able to get down the wings a lot more.
Of course it did mean that there was a little less presence in the centre of midfield, and in the first portion of the match, that manifested itself in a lot of long balls down the wing, which were generally ineffective. Reggie Lambe mentioned after the Orlando game how the midfield's inability to control the game meant a lack of service to the wings and we saw the same again early on in this game. Eventually though, Matt Stinson and Luis Silva came into the game, and a more patient passing style started to make itself felt as TFC controlled the last 25 minutes or so of the first half. Though they may give way to Julian de Guzman and Eric Avila, both Stinson and Silva made very good cases for positions in the starting lineup against L.A. Stinson was solid if unspectacular, better than Terry Dunfield on Saturday, and Silva looked very good in the Attacking Midfield spot.
His probable rival for that AM spot against L.A Ryan Johnson also pressed his claims with a very impressive performance out on the Left Wing, and it was the two of them who combined for the opening goal, Johnson falling at the top of the box, but getting the ball out to Silva on the right, who knocked a cross to the back post that Johnson tracked down to hit back across the goalie and in. That came after Frings had hit the post and Danny Koevermans had forced a good save out of the goalie as TFC really piled on the pressure
So 1-0 at the half and once again the second half saw more subs that you can keep track of. For a while it looked like that would hurt TFC as BK's subs improved their team while TFC's nominally weakened theirs.
One of the subs Eric Avila, had a shot cleared off the line early in the 2nd, which was immediately followed by Miguel Aceval hitting the rebound against the post. Another sub, Aaron Maund, who came on for Ty Harden (i think, it was all very confusing and the stream once again very frustrating), conceded a very harsh penalty, debatable in both terms of the contact and where that 'contact' took place. Hacken scored, Milos Kocic unable to make the save, and for a while they looked the more likely to score the winner.
They didn't though, and happily, TFC did, twice in the last few minutes as it became the Nick Soolsma show. First he played a nice ball through to trilaist Moises Orozco on the right hand edge of the box who did fabulously to turn towards goal and lose his marker, before hitting the ball into the top corner. Soolsma cut inside from the right twice to get decent shots off before going down the outside and hitting a low cross across the goal that Joao Plata turned in. It'd be wrong to not also mention Efrain Burgos Jr, who though unspectacular was impressively calm and composed in midfield after coming on as a sub.
Negatives for TFC were that Danny Koevermans was again subbed off with commentators muttering about a possible injury which isn't a good sign for an aging player who never seemed to get to full fitness last year, and the performance of Reggie Lambe, who once again disappointed, and so far at least doesn't look likely to be knocking Nick Soolsma out of the lineup when both players are eligible.
The main thing we saw tonight was that TFC seem a lot more comfortable with the 5-2-3/3-4-3 than with 4 at the back. The difference was mainly seen with the increased freedom for Richard Eckersley and Ashtone Morgan to get forward and join the attack, Morgan linking up especially well with Johnson down the Left Wing. Ideally the Centre Backs would be good enough and the midfield coverage flexible enough to allow them that freedom from a flat back 4 platform, but from the game against Orlando, it doesn't seem like we're at that point yet.
Thursday's game against FC Dallas should give us a clue as to what the future may hold in that respect, as well as giving us out first chance to see how TFC measure up against a fellow MLS side. Today's win does mean that we're more than likely going to see another game in Orlando in either the final or the 3rd place match, which would be a very good thing, giving one more chance for either first team chemistry building, or for trialists to try and grab the roster spot that Elbekay Bouchiba was unceremoniously booted out of this morning.