The good news for Toronto FC fans is that Ryan Nelsen rotated his squad, rested many of his key players, and came away with an impressive 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact despite a dire first half of action in the Voyageurs Cup. The job is only half done though as Toronto will still have to ensure they get the job done in the return leg at Stade Saputo before they can book their place in the final once again.
Toronto got the result with a lot of their regular starters sitting comfortably on the bench while others were given the entire night off from action. All the changes to the lineup opened the door for some of TFC's young players to shine and while some of them made the most of their opportunity others did very little to show the coaching staff that they are deserving of more playing time.
With Stefan Frei starting in goal the only real concern was going to be if he could shed the thick layers of rust that have likely developed on his game having not made a competitive appearance in over a year. Frei was not overly tested by the Impact in the game with the stats showing the visitors failed to manage a single shot on target. He looked okay when he did have to deal with things but until he actually gets tested it will be hard to tell just how far along he is in his comeback.
Frei anchored the defense along with Danny Califf who got into the game having seen his minutes in league play take a hit following an injury. With Gale Agbossoumonde taking over his spot in the center of Toronto's defense and doing a solid job it is unlikely that Califf will just be handed his starting spot back any time soon. The good news is that Califf was up to his usual tricks on Wednesday night make life tough for any Impact player who came near him and dealt with the few problems that the Impact caused him quite comfortably.
Califf was joined in the backline by a duo of young Canadians who both turned in their best performances in recent memory. Doneil Henry was very solid defensively playing his part in keeping the clean sheet and got himself on the score-sheet with an impressive effort from the top of Montreal's 18. Ashtone Morgan was also solid in what was arguably his best game of the season but a lot of that had to do with the fact that he had very little defending to do and was free to spend the majority of his time looking to get forward and that is when he has always been the most comfortable.
Ryan Richter rounded out the defense for Toronto and showed once again that he is more than capable of defending at this level. His tackling and marking were both on point for the entire game and he was solid at the back even managing to cut out a couple of Montreal's better chances. Problem with Richter's game was that anytime he tried to get involved in things going forward he showed just how poor his passing ability is. If he can keep putting in solid defensive performances fans might be seeing more of him but that passing game needs to improve fast if he wants to push for minutes at fullback when other options such as Richard Eckersley return to fitness.
The midfield was where fans really got to see the good and the bad of the squad last night. There was the outstanding performance from Jonathan Osorio who looked completely at ease in the middle of the park despite having to go up against one of the top MLS midfielders in Montreal's Patrice Bernier. Osorio put in his best performance for TFC so far and should be in line for more minutes if he can keep playing like that. The players next to him though did not have the same kind of impressive performances.
Both of Toronto's 2013 draft picks showed that they still have quite a ways to go before really being ready to contribute at a high level. Emery Welshman looked totally out of place on the wing for Toronto and did very little to inspire confidence in the club's decision to trade down the draft board to pick him up in the first round. He is just coming back from injury but considering he spent more time falling down than he did actually challenging defenders there seems to be reason for concern that he will need a lot more time to develop. Kyle Bekker was slightly better but still left a lot to be desired with his performance. Fans got glimpses of his ability to take set pieces and pick out a pass but he also showed that he is not playing the game with the kind of speed needed to be a difference maker as he was often slow to make a run or pick out a pass and it cost TFC a number of openings. If he can speed his game up the little bit that is needed it would allow him to show the potential that had scouts around the league raving about him during his time at Boston College.
John Bostock encompassed the good and the bad all in the same player last night. He hit one nice free kick from long range, he ran at defenders every chance he got and was lively on the ball but at the same time he was fairly out of control and completely predictable which led to him turning the ball over frequently when running at defenders. The talent he has is clear to see but his reliance on doing everything with only one foot seems to be easy for defenders to pick up and limits his danger on the wing. He also showed that he was slow to pull the trigger on shooting chances which is something he needs to improve considering he has shown that he can strike the ball well with his one foot.
In front of them Andrew Wiedeman and Justin Braun both turned in solid performances and could have helped Toronto to an even bigger margin of victory had they been slightly more clinical. Wiedeman got his name on the score-sheet with a nice finish but the best finisher of the modern era really should have added a second goal later on when he had the chance to put the game away. Braun was again lively in the attack as he worked hard to track down balls and cause problems but for the most part his hard work was without any real results which will hopefully come with more playing time and sharpness but for now it is all work with little reward.
The two subs that Toronto did make came after 72 minutes as Nelsen brought Luis Silva on for Bekker and Hogan Ephraim on for Braun. Silva came in and made an instant impact which really demonstrated the gulf in class between himself at Bekker at this point in time. It was Silva's pass that setup Toronto's second goal of the game as he was lively and sharp showing that he is ready to take his game to the next level like many were hoping he would following a solid rookie season. Ephraim came in and had little time to do much to impress or eliminate some of the questions surrounding his performances in recent weeks.
Based on the game on Wednesday night there are a number of players who did enough to earn themselves more minutes and hopefully a place in the lineup for the return leg. Even with a 2-0 lead though Toronto can't afford to coast through the second leg and I would not be surprised to see a few of the players who struggled in the first leg dropped to the bench in exchange for a slightly stronger lineup. Unless Montreal plans on waving the white flag you can bet they will be fielding a stronger side and it will be up to TFC to respond to that.
Who were your standout performers for Wednesday night and who do you think should spend a bit more time in the reserves before being given another shot in the lineup?