Once again in a winner takes all game against defending Mickey Mouse Cup champions FC Dallas, Toronto FC came out on top 3-0, bringing their preseason group stage to a triumphant end and setting up an all Canadian final against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday. While the trophy is right up there with the Trillium Cup for importance and worldwide prestige, it does mean one more game for Aron Winter to use as he sees fit to get the team as ready as possible for the big game on Wednesday. The fact that it's against Vancouver should add a bit of spiciness to it, and make sure it's as close to meaningful and hard fought as a preseason game can get. Or actually not, late tweets from the club and Luke Wileman suggest the first team is going to be heading back to Toronto to prepare for Wednesday's game, which I guess leaves this one for academy kids and trialists
That should give us an early indication of who's first team squad material and who isn't, and though most of the lineup decisions have probably been made by now, a few players will have helped or hurt their chances of getting into the starting XI with this game.
One of those who helped his cause, at least in my eyes is Stefan Frei who much like the earlier game against Orlando looked confident and decisive dealing with set pieces and crosses into his box. One development that seemed to help in that regard was that for corners his starting position was about 4 or 5 yards off his line rather than on it, something he's presumably learned from new goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr. His shot stopping was never in doubt, so with this added confidence negating Milos Kocic's main advantage, I'd have no hesitation in saying he should once again be considered TFC's clear number one choice.
Moving through the team, Ashtone Morgan again had a very good game, and it was the same back 4 that started against BK Hacken, with Ty Harden once again quietly solid alongside Miguel Aceval and Richard Eckersley. It was back to a flat back 4 for Toronto and they coped quite well with what was admittedly a fairly second string Dallas attack. Geovanny Caicedo was missing with what was later revealed as a minor knee injury, so I'd expect those 4 to be getting the start again on Wednesday.
In midfield is where most of the decisions remain to be made for Wednesday's game, and there were good and bad outings here. Starting with the bad and once again Terry Dunfield was unimpressive, his passing contributing to a poor first 25-30 minutes from TFC with very little movement through the middle and too many harmless long balls that a well organised Dallas midfield and defence were easily able to swallow up. When Julian de Guzman is available, then Dunfield will be a backup anyway, but he may well have lost his assumed spot alongside Torsten Frings in Wednesday's game to Matt Stinson, who put in another good performance.
At the other side of the spectrum, someone who once again impressed and made his case to be the starting Attacking Midfielder is Luis Silva. He was once again linking well with Danny Koevermans and Joao Plata, before he scored 2 goals in 5 minutes towards the end of the second half when TFC were playing much better and really piling on the pressure. His first came from what looked like a quite clumsy and out of control dribble through the defence after a one two with Koevermans, but however it happened, he ended up through on the goalie, and though he got a hand to it it wasn't enough to stop the ball from trickling over the line. That made him the 6th TFC player to score in this tournament, a very welcome development for a club that lacked secondary scoring for a lot of last year.
His second showed a real goalscorer's touch, a free kick led to the ball pinballing around in the box, until it came to Silva and he very quickly got off a very hard and accurate shot that gave the goalie no chance, a lethal finish. TFC almost got a third with what would have been an absolutely gorgeous goal. Joao Plata ran down the left, cut inside, and scooped a deft pass over his defender into the box for Silva who chested the ball to Koevermans, who took a touch then curled the ball over the goalie, and unfortunately onto the corner of crossbar and post.
Koevermans was one of the half time subs, and once again by the 70th minute, pretty much all the starting XI had been subbed off, and so TFC lost a lot of their momentum, though they managed to see the game out easily enough, and got a third late on. A long range Eric Avila shot produced a very juicy rebound that Keith Makubuya squared for Ryan Johnson to knock home from a couple of yards out. Johnson's another player, mainly due to his game against BK Hacken, who's shown he deserves a place in the starting lineup, it's just a question of where.
The obvious opening is on Right Wing where Reggie Lambe, though a little better than his earlier games, was once again unimpressive, and given expectations has been the most disappointing of TFC's new players so far this season. Johnson didn't really impress when played at Right Wing last year, but if he or Plata can do well there, then with Koevermans and Silva, that's a very good looking attacking 4 players.
So all in all this preseason's looking a lot better than it was just a few days ago. Yes this wasn't a strong lineup that FC Dallas put out, so we still haven't really faced MLS quality opposition yet, and apparently the club's just fine with that. It's a bit of a curious decision, though one that was probably planned out before they even got here. It's also a bit of a shame as given how Vancouver suddenly have a wealth of attacking talent, with Sebastian le Toux and draft pick Darren Mattocks joining Eric Hassli and Camilo, the game would have been good preparation for taking on L.A's attacking riches on Wednesday. Oh well, at least it will give us a chance to see a bit more of the fringe players, and it means that Caicedo aside, the first team has avoided picking up injuries, which alwways the main thing you can ask for out of a preseason.