So what is left to say about last nights thrilling CONCACAF Champions League encounter between Toronto FC and the Los Angeles Galaxy. Well, with the match itself being extensively reported on by everyone with a computer and a passive interest (over 150 media members officially at the game) I have decided to take a step back from the game and look closer at the players who made their competitive debuts for Toronto last night.
From the opening kickoff Aron Winter was comfortable with going with recently signed veteran CB Miguel Aceval along with 4th overall pick in the 2012 SuperDraft Luis Silva. Aceval was fairly effective in his position but the concern for fans will continue to be the fact that he seemed to be so reliant on Torsten Frings. Silva on the other hand barely put a foot wrong and was able to open his scoring account for the club with an expertly taken header.
Before the game was over fans at Rogers Centre got to see a decent run out for Reggie Lambe who after replacing Joao Plata managed to make life on the wing a bit tougher for LA as well as Aaron Maund who made his first appearance coming on for the dying moments of the match.On the whole, the newcomers put in solid performances considering what was being asked of them in such a big game and in front of such a large crowd. The only performance of the bunch that will have raised more questions than answers came from Aceval. It was not that he was noticeably bad on the night but rather it was that if you took away Frings who spent most of the match right beside him it might have gotten ugly. Over the course of the match it always seemed to be Frings getting up to win a header, intercepting a pass, or making a strong tackle while Aceval was left watching. On a number of occasions in the first half the only thing that stopped Edson Buddle from blowing past Aceval was the fact that he could just not stay on side. After that happened a few times it seemed that Ty Harden and Frings ended up doing the majority of the marking on Buddle while Robbie Keane was either tormenting Richard Eckersley out wide or being picked up by Harden when he came inside.
In the later stages of the game David Beckham was playing in a much deeper role and that seemed to leave Aceval doing nothing on a lot of plays. The other defenders were picking up Buddle, Keane, and Landon Donovan so there was no one left for him. That is fine but what worried me was that he rarely did much to help out his teammates with their man. In the end his performance was not bad, even if his marking was at the very least suspect on LA's second goal, but it was worrying. Frings is not going to be there all season but it seems that the defensive questions will remain in his absence.
Silva's performance was the exact opposite. If not for a world class performance from Frings, Silva might just have played his way into being the man of the match. The 23 year old attacking midfielder is the kind of player who you would ideally love to see playing in a role where he is free to focus most of his efforts on getting forward and creating chances. Last night, he was tasked with doing a lot more than that and he impressed in doing so. Many times it was Silva who tracked back on Juninho and David Beckham to help out Terry Dunfield in the middle of the park. With Frings sitting in the backline Silva needed to help out more in the middle of the park and he proved that he could do so quite well. He managed to put in a couple of strong tackles and really just showed a consistent effort in an area of the field where he is obviously not the most comfortable.
All that effort was rewarded with his first goal for the club. It came in the early stages of the match when he rose to head home an absolutely brilliant cross from Frings. The former German international was able to get forward and join in Toronto's counter attack down the left before picking out the rookie at the top of the LA 18 yard box. Silva then took care of the rest with a perfectly placed header that left Josh Saunders with no real chance of making the save.
By the time that Silva was subbed off in the 89th minute he had turned in one of the more impressive debut performances that I can remember from a TFC player. If you were to hand out 3 stars for the game there is no doubt in my mind that almost everyone watching the game would have included him. The most important thing from a TFC perspective is that Silva's performance showed that his preseason was not a fluke. He really does seemed primed to be an impact performer from day one of the MLS season.
Silva was replaced in the 89th minute of the game by Aaron Maund who really only had enough time to get on the field and barely get settled, with Donovan's goal happening immediately after his entrance. With less than five minutes of playing time it is hard to make any sort of judgement on Maund but the good news is that Winter had enough faith in him to give him his first cap in such a big game even if it was late on.
The other new comer that we got our first real look at was Reggie Lambe. Lambe came on for Joao Plata early in the second half as Winter was likely looking to solidify the left wing, by moving Ryan Johnson out there, with Lambe taking Johnson's place on the right . He did do that to some extent as Lambe seemed a fair bit more willing to track back and do the gritty work that Plata was not doing. Plata looked good going forward but did almost nothing in terms of marking or even trying to help out on the defensive side of things. When Lambe came on it helped the defending but it was a bit of a blow to the attack as for the most part his runs lacked the cutting edge that Plata was bringing early in the game.
Lambe was not a game changer which continues on from his preseason form where he often left fans wanting more but he did show that he might just be able to come off the bench this season and consistently provide a bit more to the side then Plata, Ryan Johnson, or Nick Soolsma might have. That said, his 30 minute outing was not good enough for me to expect him to feature in the return leg when you consider that Soolsma will be back from his suspension and available.
On the whole, I was pleased with the performances of the new comers considering that it was such a big game and they are still trying to settle in to the squad. For most of them there is still room for them to improve while for Aceval and Lambe they will need to make a fair bit of improvement if they are hoping to win over the confidence of fans in the early stages of the new MLS season.