Wow, where the hell did that come from? I was expecting what we'd seen so many times recently, 5 at the back, keep it tight, hope Toronto FC can grab one of the few chances that come our way, and hope beyond hope that unlike recent games, the defence can somehow hold on, the goalie can make some big saves and they can get some luck to keep the clean sheet and escape with an improbable 1-0 win.
I couldn't have been more wrong. Though Torsten Frings and Julian De Guzman were always there to help out the defence, it was a flat back 4, featuring Andy Iro, Ty Harden, rookie Ashtone Morgan and an out of position rookie Doneil Henry, and they did the job no problem. Iro, Harden and 2 rookies! Seriously. Milos Kocic was again preferred to Stefan Frei in goal, but that really didn't matter as aside from a few dribbly long range shots he didn't have a save to make, Kocic took care of those as well as controlling his box and claiming all the crosses he had to.
TFC created a lot more chances, playing a good attacking game in the first half and a fantastic counter attacking game in the second. It was a fully deserved win, with many many heroes.
Danny Koevermans was Danny Koevermans, when he got a chance he buried it, albeit at the second attempt. The most impressive part of his goal was his running as the move developed, casually running alongside his marker as if trying to get to the back post, then quickly cutting behind the defender to the near post, and giving himself enough time to fluff the initial shot and still be able to get the second shot off into the empty net after Kevin Hartman dived for the first attempt that never came. The movement and the composure to recover from the first missed shot and calmly knock the ball home, that's world class Centre Forward play right there.
Nick Soolsma and Ryan Johnson played their part, Johnson's holding of the ball before laying it off to Joao Plata for the second goal was delicious.
Torsten Frings and especially Julian de Guzman had great games in midfield, helping out the defence, winning all the 50/50 balls and stopping Dallas from getting anything going.
The defence did everything they needed to, Brek Shea was Dallas' most dangerous player but Doneil Henry and Ty Harden did what they needed to do to shut him down. Andy Iro had probably his best game for TFC at Centre Back, and Ashtone Morgan got forward now and then to support Plata, but I didn't really notice him in defence which is alwasy a good thing for a defender.
As mentioned earlier, Milos Kocic didn't have much to do at all, Dallas' best attempts went narrowly wide or just over the bar, but again, what he had to do, he did, and his authority in coming for crosses fully vindicated Aron Winter's decision to play him.
Talking of Winter, the formation and tactics tonight worked perfectly. Before the game, I would have said that going with only 4 at the back and playing an attacking game was suicide, what the hell do I know? It worked perfectly, that was probably the best game I've ever seen TFC play, 3-0 wasn't flattering at all. I still feel stunned that TFC could play that way and pull it off so well. The formation, Kocic instead of Frei, the decision to rest Koevermans on Saturday, anything, there's literally nothing that can be legitimately second guessed.
Who's left? Oh yeah, Joao plata. Big Joao had an amazing game. Early on I was lamenting the fact that the kid clearly has no left foot. It's often shown up in his penchant for cutting inside from the left wing rather than beat his man on the outside, and that was the case again today. But he also had a couple of scoring chances, one in the first minute, and another in the 27th, and both times the chance was lost because he favours his right foot. It was the same in the 28th, I was cursing his one footedness, but then he got the ball to Koevermans and the rest was history.
The second goal, his initial flick to Ryan Johnson was gorgeous, and when he drifted into space and got the ball back, his finish was clinical. If Johnson played a big part in that one, the 3rd was all Plata. He stole the ball from Jackson, ran at the defence, again cut inside onto his right foot much to my chagrin, but beat two defenders before placing the ball past Kevin Hartman and just inside the far post.
If there was ever any doubt that TFC should be doing everything they possibly can to sign him up permanently, it was erased last night and it's probably for the best that his left foot is so weak otherwise he'd be on his way to much bigger teams than us.
All in all, this was a fantastic night for TFC and their fans. It gives a really positive end to this season, saturday's final game should have a very celebratory tone, and really sets up 2012 to be the year they finally make the breakthrough into being a top MLS side. With a huge two games to plan for in March, there's no way we'll go into the season as unprepared as we have in the past. Many times I've referred to this season as #preseason2012, this ensures that it's all worth it, that we will actually be prepared for next season when the first competitive game comes along, and whether we win the quarter finals or not, that can only mean good things in the MLS season next year.
The progress had been visible for a long time, now though, now there's something tangible to show for it, and a couple of games in March that will provide a real impetus to push on and take the necessary steps to being a serious MLS team. TFC proved they're no-one's laughing stock any more, long suffering supporters finally have a team to be proud of.