Toronto FC's senior academy team always knew they were going to be in for a tough challenge playing in the Super Group at the Dallas Cup. They were up for it though and spent the past week down in Dallas giving a good account of what they have to offer against three strong sides.
Their first match against Aalborg BK of Denmark was marred by some discipline issues as Toronto ended up on the wrong side of a 2-0 result. The game was balanced in the first half with chances going both ways but Toronto picked up three cards before the break in a sign of what was to come.
In the second half it was a straight red card for Alain Sargeant as a result of a late tackle that turned the match in Aalborg's favour. It did not take long for them to make the numerical advantage count as they got on the scoreboard with half an hour to go in the game. Toronto's discipline issues continued to cost them in the closing stages of the match as Jevon Gayle conceded a penalty which saw him pick up his second yellow card. Aalborg converted the penalty and cruised home with the 2-0 win against a TFCA squad that was reduced to nine men to finish the game.
With Sargeant and Gayle unavailable for the second game against Tigres of Mexico the young side was up against it. The second match turned into a fairly wide open affair with both teams creating a number of chances. Tigres opened the scoring early in the game as TFCA seemed unable to contain them on the wings. TFC's outside backs struggled to deal with the Mexicans attack down the wings but it did not take long for the young reds to draw level.
Toronto's first goal of the tournament came off a corners as Dylan Sacramento played the ball into the box which was kept alive by a header from Nicola Paunic before it was slotted home by Mark Wadid. The level score would not last long though as Tigres again exposed TFCA with their pace on the wings and it led to their second goal of the match.
The chances continued throughout the first half for both sides though and Toronto did eventually make them count finding a second goal to draw level. It was again set up by Sacramento who did the hard work to create the chance before Manuel Aparicio applied the needed finish to level the score.
The match would end up level at 2-2 after as both teams traded chances in the second half but neither could find the winner thanks to some poor finishing and a bit of solid play in goal by Quillan Roberts. Toronto seemed quite pleased with the improvement over their first game and the point was enough to keep them in with a hope of advancing heading to the final round of matches.
Very proud of my Boys today after our disappointment yesterday. Great reaction & team effort against a very good TIGRES team!#tfcacademy— Danny Dichio (@DannyDichio) March 25, 2013
For Toronto to make the semifinals it would have taken a win and a fair bit of help but at least they still had something to play for when they took on Brazilian club Fluminense FC. The Brazilians were in a position to ensure their place in the semifinals with a win so they were more than up for the game right from the opening kickoff.
Toronto had a lot of defending to do in their final game but they did a good job of limiting the Fluminense attack to only a few half chances in the opening half. Roberts was called into action on a couple of occasions and was up to the task each time including denying a great chance on a Fluminense breakaway.
Toronto managed to create a few chances of their own mainly off of set pieces but in the end it was the Brazilians who found the breakthrough just after the 70 minute mark. Toronto did not really create much after that as Fluminense seemed happy to see out the match with the 1-0 scoreline which was enough to ensure them of a place in the semifinals.
Toronto ended the group second from the bottom with just the one point which kept them ahead of Tigres on goal difference but they can take pride in the fact that they played every team tough in a group that ended up producing two semifinalists in Fluminense and Aalborg.
Heading to the Dallas Cup in such a tough group the focus was always going to be on the performances and not on the results as Toronto was quite a long-shot to actually compete for the event's title. It seems that the squad showed improvement over the course of the three games and did well considering it is basically the kickoff of their 2013 season while the other clubs are in the middle of their calender at this time of year.
Next up for the academy is the Future Cup in Amsterdam where the junior side will compete with more of the World's top academy programs including Ajax Amsterdam and Tottenham Hotspur. It will be another tough event to even bring home a single point from but also another great chance for the club's young players to learn from going up against some of the best young players out there.