As we all know, Aron Winter and Bob de Klerk had flown back to Toronto on Friday, wrapping the first team up in bubblewrap and taking them with them, leaving behind only those with no chance of playing against L.A on Wednesday to fight against the Vancouver Whitecaps for the less than prestigious Mickey Mouse Cup on Saturday night. It's quite right that the chance to deny Vancouver another trophy didn't affect the preseason plans, and making sure the first team is uninjured, fit and ready to play when it counts is a very good plan.
What that left us with though was a very threadbare Toronto FC squad with only 2 first team regulars, Nick Soolsma and captain for the day Eric Avila, on the pitch. Oscar Cordon and Keith Makubuya were the only other players in the squad with a first team contract. Those 4 were bolstered by trialists Kevin Huezo, Moises Orozco, and Logan Emory, and so far unsigned draft picks Michael Green and Efrain Burgos Jr. Filling out the squad were academy kids, and that only ended up with 15 players, 4 subs, one of which was the back up goalie.
Vancouver on the other hand, with their first competitive game not for another week or so played a very strong team, Hassli, Camilo, DeMerit, Rochat, they had many of their stars, and a team full of first team level players. So how did it end up?
Well, it went surprisingly well, as TFC's kids acquitted themselves admirably. Sure they were always obviously second best, physically and technically overmatched, but it really wasn't as one sided as it should have been, and though Vancouver had more chances, with Darren Mattocks particularly wasteful, TFC had their own chances to score and might well have got something out of the game.
There were 3 players that stood out to me as the best for TFC on the night. First up was goalkeeper Quillan Roberts. He played well throughout the game, made a few important stops and really can't be blamed for Vancouver's goal, after Camilo had made it past the defence he came out and forced the Brazilian to go very wide to get around him, but a good finish meant he still scored even from a very narrow angle.
That was within 10 minutes, but the floodgates didn't open, a combination of dogged defending, poor finishing and good saves from Roberts kept Vancouver to just the one goal. Going the other way, the best player on the pitch was Oscar Cordon who was impressive in his tackling, passing and overall play. After some substitutions, he was shuffled back to the Right Back spot, but while he was in midfield It wasn't just his hair that was reminiscent of Julian de Guzman. Barring injuries, I still don't think he's a threat to be breaking into the first team at all this season, but it was a good sign of what he may be able to bring in the future and reliable depth is always good to have for when it's occasionally needed.
The other player who impressed me was Efrain Burgos Jr, a draft pick from 2011 who is having his first preseason with the club and is as yet unsigned. He had a very busy game with a few dangerous set pieces, though he was guilty of wasting one of TFC's best chances to score, wide open in the penalty area, his scuffed shot wasn't particularly strong and was straight at Joe Cannon in the Whitecaps goal. Whether any of the unsigned trialists with the team end up with a contract is something we'll find out over the next few weeks, but last night Burgos had the best performance tonight.
Of course, as with all these games, it's preseason so don't look at them for too much reliable info, but the young kids, including 15 year old Jordan Hamilton really did the academy proud, and when you combine it with the impressive play of Ashtone Morgan and Matt Stinson this week, it reflects very well on the academy and suggest only good things for the future of TFC and Canada.
So there we go, preseason's over. Was 4 games for the first team enough to be fully prepared? It may well be that the relatively light schedule when compared to other teams will help later on when fatigue starts to really kick in, Aron Winter obviously thinks so, and a few times he's given the impression of focusing on what will work for the long season ahead. But with the season starting with what might be the two biggest games the team plays all year, and with the home game especially set to play a huge part in the perception and profile of the team among a still wary and sceptical press and supporter base, hesitant to embrace the team again after 5 years of disappointment, it's a big gamble to take to focus on the long term picture and go into those games with so little time to build match fitness and team chemistry.