Well, the training wheels came off, and I'm impressed. In what was probably their toughest game so far, Toronto FC turned in what is probably their best game of the season, and definitely their most consistent 90 minute performance so far to hold San Jose Earthquakes to a 1-1 tie on Saturday night to move on to 5 points and maintain their mid table position.
There's still plenty of room for improvement of course, San Jose dominated possession and had most chances and shots on goal, but very few of those chances were really good ones, as TFC did a decent job of keeping them to long range efforts. To torture my bike riding analogy even further, TFC wobbled but didn't fall off. Going forward, without really creating many clearcut chances themselves, they looked very dangerous at times as well, all in all it was a very good away performance.
It was the exact same starting line up as last week, and the defence seemed a lot more familiar and solid. Ty Harden at Right Back to start and then at Centre Back in the second half was much more composed and error free than the previous two games, and DanLeigh Borman had a great game at Left Back, linking very well with Alen Stevanovic when going forward. Adrian Cann was the key in defence though, and he looked like the Cann of 2010, confident, making several good challenges and keeping Chris Wondolowski more or less in check.
Nana Attakora, well that's a bit more of a puzzle. For the second straight game, Attakora was substituted in what Aron Winter confirmed was a tactical decision. Personally I thought he had a decent first half defensively, seeming to be playing as more of a spare man, using his speed to cover for his fellow defenders on both sides of the box. Having said that he was one of many players on the right side of defence who looked weak on San Jose's goal, a simple one two allowing Simon Dawkins to get through the defence to score.
It may have been Attakora's passing play that caused the substitution, it's no secret that Winter wants the defence to be comfortable on the ball and keep possession and Attakora did send a lot of ineffective long balls forward. It may be that Winter is using these substitutions as a teaching opportunity for Attakora, I'd certainly like to think it's not due to his still unresolved contract situation, but the last player to be subbed early in two games straight was Nathan Sturgis, and he hasn't been seen since, not even making the subs bench the last two games. It certainly can't be a good sign that after bringing in Julian De Guzman at the half, and moving Jacob Peterson to Right Back to help out Javier Martina, Winter preferred to move Harden to the centre rather than keep Attakora in.
Oxford Learning fast fact! This one's for you Gol TV producers. Interruptions like this are really annoying. Please stop with all the in game promos.
Whatever the exact reason for the change, after a shaky end to the first half, the Reds looked a lot more solid defensively in the second half, Julian De Guzman combining very well with Tony Tchani to protect the defence. Tchani was impressive again, using his physique and style to muscle the Quakes players off the ball as well as having a bit of a running battle with Sam Cronin which saw them both booked, it's not a stretch to say he could develop into a dominant player in this league, along the lines of Shalrie Joseph and Kyle Beckerman. When Julian De Guzman is fully fit, the two of them should compliment each other very well
I'm liking the De Rosario to New York trade more the more I see of Tchani, and the other player we got from the Red Bulls, Danleigh Borman had a really good game as well, he and Alen Stevanovic provided most of TFC's attaking play in the first half down the left flank. Stevanovic looked dangerous every time he had the ball, and was much more involved than against Chivas the previous week. It was he and Borman who created the first goal, Stevanovic chasing down a long pass from Tchani before knocking the ball behind their Right Back for Borman, who had overtaken him on the inside. Borman's cross was partially blocked and looked harmless until Sam Cronin at the near post decided not to leave the ball for his goalie or head the ball out for a corner, but instead tried to clear downfield. His weak header fell to Alan Gordon, who had a very straight forward tap in. Thanks Sammy.
On the other wing, Javier Martina had a very quiet first half, whether due to the narrow pitch, or San Jose paying more attention to him, but in the second half, the attack was much more balanced as he saw a lot more of the ball, putting in some dangerous crosses. Winger's are notoriously inconsistent, so I probably shouldn't be surprised he had a quiet game after starting the season so well, but if TFC can get him and Stevanovic playing well at the same time, that'll be one of MLS' best wing combinations.
As well as scoring for the second straight game, Alan Gordon had another good game, doing the basics of the Centre Forward position well, winning balls, causing problems for the defence, as well as providing an outlet for long passes out of defence at times. On top of his play he seems a very good character player, the type who could easily become a leader on this team, he's been much better than advertised at the time of his trade from Chivas.
As for TFC's nominal leader, captain Maicon Santos, he was probably the biggest disappointment on the night as he never really got his game going, and was also subbed off in the second half.
All in all, it was a very good game from TFC, I'd certainly have taken a point if offered it before the game, and there are a lot of positives to take away for the future, Tchani and De Guzman, Stevanovic and Borman, Cann getting back to his old form as examples of that. There's still a long way to go, and there'll be some games where they look awful, but for now at least, I'd say Winter's TFC is starting to come together nicely.