To read about the depressing half of the season, go here for part 1.
Frings and koevermans were on the way, so the future was definitely looking brighter, but the first game in July was the one that was absolutely crucial. Lose this and this season would be over with 3 1/2 months to go, all we'd have left was looking for signs of hope for next year, and debating just how much of the mess was the new coach's fault and if it was worth sticking with him just for the sake of not having to bring someone new in again. It was Vancouver again, the second game of the Canada day weekend double header, and this one, for the Voyageur's cup, really counted.
TFC started slowly and Vancouver took the lead, but that goal seemed to spark TFC into life and they got themselves back into the game, the first half saw Maicon Santos leave the pitch injured (after 2 players were injured in the first half of the first leg), and a Javier Martina shot judged to have been cleared off the line when replays showed it did go over. More cynical minded folks might have claimed it was some kind of CSA conspiracy to keep Toronto out of the final. Good did eventually prevail over evil though, with the help of a very generous refereeing decision. Joao Plata's penalty was saved by Joe Cannon, but he was judged to have come off his line before the ball was kicked. he had, but no more than any other goalie regularly does. Plata buried the second attempt, and later on Mikael Yourassowsky made his only TFC goal an important one, and TFC ran out 2-1 winners, all that stuff about nothing to play for? Well that was Vancouver's problem now.
With that feelgood win and a trophy, the team must have been in high spirits as they travelled to New York for their next game, surely nothing could go wrong with that.
Well of course it did, reinforcements were on the way but still not allowed to play, so Gargan, Eckersley, Harden and Borman were always going to be in tough against all New York's firepower, and it ended up with another bloody 5-0 loss in New Jersey.
Better than Vancouver, not as good as New York, the next game, at mid table Houston would provide a good measure of how exactly where TFC stood, and it wasn't pretty as a feeble performance saw yet another 2-0 defeat, a suitable exclamation point on the first incarnation of Winter's TFC. Next time they played, it would be a much different lineup.
We didn't know just how different it would be, but when that window opened up, Winter went a bit crazy. Out went Alan Gordon, Jacob Peterson, Nana Attakora, Tony Tchani, in came Terry Dunfield, Ryan Johnson, Andy Iro and Leandre Griffit, as well as Eddy Viator and who knows what allocation money, draft picks, international spots and all that other MLS wackiness was involved. I saw Iro as the crucial pickup, if he could come in and do a good job in defence, that would be huge for this team. Oh well.
TFC 2011 2.0 got off to a rocky and unfamiliar start, losing 1-0 to FC Dallas, but Torsten Frings showed right away that he was exactly as advertised, and could make a real difference for us. The next game was another shitshow in the defence, 4-2 this time in Kansas City, with Maicon Santos playing a particularly poor game in midfield and being subbed off before half time. Again though there were positives to be seen, Danny Koevermans showing off his scoring instincts, and Ryan Johnson having a good game on the Left Wing.
Even at this stage though, it was all about the CCL, and next up was the home leg against Nicaraguan side Real Esteli, with just enough time before then for Dan Gargan to be 'released'. A few days after that came out, he was actually traded to Chicago for Dasan Robinson. The game against Real Esteli wasn't a great one, Esteli were a poor team but TFC struggled to break them down until Joao Plata came on and scored twice in the second half. What looked like a comfortable lead to take down for the 2nd leg, was reduced to a single goal when Milos Kocic, playing his first game of the season fell on the ball for a routine save, but instead rolled right over it, allowing a surprised Esteli player to knock it home. Probably my favourite Stefan Frei memory of the year came at the end of the game, as he went straight to Kocic, put his arm around him and refused to let him just skulk off the pitch in shame, instead taking him back towards the fans to give them a clap, a touching moment between the goalie brethren.
A come from behind 2-2 tie in Portland with another goal from Danny Koevermans, and one from the latest new signing Peri Marosevic gave a bit of a feel good factor going into the second leg in Esteli. Before we got there though, there was yet another trade, this time club captain Maicon Santos shipped off to Dallas for Eric Avila. It was a strange season for Santos, being made captain was thoroughly confusing and he never really seemed to get going at all, hopeless at Attacking Midfield and anonymous (but with a decent amount of goals to be fair) up front, he wouldn't be missed.
I really enjoyed the Esteli game, though a lot of people were put off by the pitch and seemed to turn their nose up at the idea thast TFC should have to play in such conditions, for me that was probably the best ground we played in out of all the CCL games. A tight and quirky stadium, absolutely packed with excited fans combined with the shoddy pitch to give them a proper small club homefield advantage, this was real cup football. The fact that TFC won 2-1 of course made the whole thing a lot more enjoyable, Ryan Johnson with two more goals, and Milos Kocic putting last week's howler behind him with a good solid effort to preserve the win.
The games just kept on coming and next up was that ridiculously entertaining game in D.C. Red Cards, refereeing controversies, a hat trick for De Ro, a penalty given away by Andy iro for the 3rd straight game, a Julian De Guzman goal! this 3-3 tie had everything.
The second half of that game saw the 3 at the back including Frings experiment for the first time, and it really didn't go well. Imagine my surprise when we started the next game that way, at home against Real Salt Lake, and this time it worked, with TFC picking up a very good 1-0 win on a Joao Plata goal.
The important games started up again with the CCL group stage, starting in Tauro. 6 points from the games against Tauro would be essential if TFC were going to qualify, and the away game got off to the perfect start with Ryan Johnson and Julian de Guzman both taking advantage of Tauro errors to give TFC what looked like a comfortable 2-0 lead. Then the Concacaf kicked in, Tauro players dived at the slightest hint of contact, the ref gave them pretty much everything and by the end TFC defenders looked terrified of even trying to make a tackle and Bob de Klerk was sent off. Coming out of that with a 2-1 win was quite the relief.
On to Chicago, and a 2-0 loss that wasn't as bad as it sounds as TFC did hit the woodwork twice and were by no means outclassed. The game was most notable for one of the Chicago goals being scored by Dan Gargan, who tweeted afterwards 'damn it feels good to be a gangster'. I was at that game and the reaction from the away fans when it was announced that Gargan scored was an amusing and almost universal sense of 'you have got to be fucking kidding me'.
TFC had more important things to worry about that Dan Gargan's gleeful revenge as the next CCl game saw Dallas come to town. Another thunderstorm and postponement (this one with a hurricane warning that forced an evacuation of the ground) meant that after 45 minutes, and Dallas leading 1-0, they started again at 0-0 for a full 90 minutes the next morning. Getting at least 3 points from the two games against Dallas would be crucial, but it didn't happen here as Dallas won 1-0 in front of about 500 people, which caused me to pretty much give up on our qualification hopes.
August finished off with a nothing match against San Jose, that saw TFC blow a 1-0 lead late with poor marking from a set play, and that led into a very welcome extended international break.
The first game back was in Columbus, and lo and behold, in the final game before Montreal joins the league for a proper rivalry, we finally put that whole 'never beat them' thing to bed with a surprising 4-2 win, Goals for Soolsma, Johnson, De Guzmand and Koevermans ensuring the Trillium cup made it's way to Toronto for the first time, and proving just what could be done when the team had a couple of weeks to practice rather than playing twice a week every week.
The important thing though was to take that form into the CCl game in Mexico City against Pumas, and well let's just say that didn't happen. Their goalie made a couple of good early saves, Milos Kocic didn't and a full strength, for the first time in this competition, Pumas side hammered TFC, 4-0 up at half time before easing off and seeing the game home no problem, Kocic making a few good saves to stop it getting even worse.
Before the next game, there was just time for Winter to make one last save before the window closed, Dasan Robinson, who made one substitute appearance, shipped off to LA for Kyle Davies, who would go on to have just as big an impact.
Danny Koevermans once again proved his ability to make space for himself in the box and finish lethally, as he scored twice in what was another dull and meaningless MLS game, but hey a win's a win I suppose, this time it was 2-1 over Colorado.
CCL was next up with a must win game against Tauro, and they did, it wasn't pretty, but another Koevermans goal, and a clean sheet for Kocic were enough to get the 3 points to keep our hopes alive for one more round at least.
That next round was the home game against Pumas, but before that, TFC had the flight out to LA to play Chivas, and despite the important game coming up, Winter went with a full strength lineup for some reason. It didn't work as Juan Pablo Angel continued his habit of tormenting TFC and the goats ran out 3-0 winners.
September ended with the latest do or die most important game of the season, having to face Pumas at home without Torsten Frings to anchor the defence or Terry Dunfield or Eric Avila in midfield and no Joao Plata up front. TFC recognised the need to keep things solid, and went with the extra Centre Back even without Frings, and Ty Harden did a great job in that role. The whole team put in a good defensive first half effort, and a Peri Marosevic goal actually gave us a 1-0 lead at half time. The second half saw TFC concentrate a bit too much on defence, with Koevermans subbed off at half time, and it was no surprise when Pumas equalised, but TFC did just enough to hold on for the valuable point and keep their hopes alive. A fantastic rearguard performance against a team that's better than you. Tauro beating Dallas the next day meant TFC needed a win in their last game to go through, but they still had a chance.
Before the next international break, New York came to town, and with Torsten Frings once again back in defence to counter Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers et al, it was another good defensive game with not much going on up front for Toronto. Danny Koevermans once again buried the one chance he got early in the second half, and from then on, TFC were clinging on to the lead fairly comfortably, until yet another defensive breakdown from a set piece, and a bit of genuine skill from Thierry Henry made it 1-1
The first game after the break was against the Philadelphia Union, but really this was just a warm up for the Biggest Game Ever. Milos Kocic got the start, indicating he'd be playing against Dallas and raising questions as to Stefan Frei's continued holding of the first choice goalie spot. Danny Koevermans didn't even play, and Frings was once again at the heart of the 5 man defence, surely a precursor to what we'd see in the CCL game. That 5 man back line did a great job keeping philly chances down, and after a Ty Harden brainfart set up a goal for Sebastian Le Toux, TFC came back to get a point, Ryan Johnson with a positively Koevermans-esque finish. A good warm up, but now came the big one.
Biggest Game Ever!, or maybe not, either way, this was it, a chance for a tangible achievement to represent all the improvements that were definitely there over the last few months, and only a win would do. Milos Kocic did get the start, but the back 5 was abandoned with Frings moving back into midfield, leaving Iro, Harden, Henry and Morgan as the defence. Risky, but it worked, theye were never really in danger, and TFC looked very much in control as they played the best game since Aron Winter came along. Calm, skillful passing through midfield and dangerous wing play from Plata had already created a couple of chances before Koevermans struck at the second attempt in the 28th minute.
Nerves were very much still jangling, but the second half went very well, keeping Dallas chances to a minimum and two Joao Plata goals on the break sealed an unbelievable and historic win, and a spot in the quarter finals next march.
There was still the New England game left to play, a 2-2 draw that turned out to be Steve Nicol's last game as the Revs coach, but that win in Dallas meant the season could definitely be looked back on as a success. A lowered expectations kind of success for sure, but one that really sets us up to do well next year. A big chunk of the off season tearing down and rebuilding has already been done with all the July trades, and there's a good base to build around. plenty of work still to do obviously, but there's real hope, and what better way to kick off next season than a quarter final. Best of all, there's absolutely no debate about firing the coach and having to start over again, again.