It was a strange game at BMO Field on Wednesday night, unusual but also a familiar reminder of seasons gone by, from the large crowd to Chad Barrett, looking dangerous, working hard, but ultimately not scoring. Obviously the crowd was swelled from the usual numbers by the appearance of David Beckham, but putting aside my distaste at the high numbers of Galaxy shirts, it was good to see the North stand fuller than it ever has been for a TFC game, and from the national anthem onwards the atmosphere was much improved over previous games this year.
TFC's performance was also reminiscent of year's gone by, with some shaky but just good enough defence, and an attack that just never got going. That was mainly due to the lineup, Alan Gordon was out with an injury and Maicon Santos also missed the game due to illness, so Alen Stevanovic moved to the middle of the attacking 3, with Javier Martina at Right Wing and Gianluca Zavarise at Left Wing.
The midfeld switched from 2 Defensive Midfielders and 1 Attacking Midfielder to just the 1 Defensive Midfielder in Julian De Guzman, making his first start of the year, and Jacob Peterson and birthday boy Tony Tchani playing further up. This looked like a deliberate plan to attack L.A more down the middle rather than on the wings as the attack has been focussed in the last few games, as the full backs were much less involved in the attack than in previous games.
In defence Borman and Adrian Cann were rewarded for good performance against San Jose by keeping their positions on the left side. Nana Attakora was, as I expected dropped, but I was a bit surprised to see Ty Harden moved back into the Right Central Defence position and Dan Gargan brought back at Right Back, it doesn't say much for Attakora's standing with Aron Winter right now that Gargan and Harden were preferred to him.
It almost went wrong right away as in the first minute L.A attacked that right side and produced a chance that forced a great save from Stefan Frei. Much like in TFC's game against L.A's Home Depot Co-tenants Chivas USA, the chances kept coming early on for the visitors, with Chad Barrett hitting the bar from outside the box and Mike Magee wasting a wide open header from a David Beckham cross, all within the first 20 minutes.
But as they did in that Chivas game, TFC did eventually settle down, and the second half of the first half, as well as the second half saw a much better performance, the defence and midfield looking a lot more controlled, though it was only from set pieces that the Reds looked like scoring
On the plus side, Peterson had another good game, as did De Guzman, and in defence Adrian Cann followed up his good game against San Jose with another solid performance, he seems fully back to his 2010 form, which is a very good thing. After the initial barrage TFC did a good job of limiting L.A's chances, though the Galaxy did come close and hit the woodwork two more times, once from a Todd Dunivant cross that was deflected on to the bar, and another time from what I feel a strange obligation to call "a trademark David Beckham free kick" which hit the post. Gargan and Harden provided some dodgy moments here and there, but in general were fairly solid, and didn't really do anything to lose their place for Saturday's game.
It was up front that the new positions and tweaked formation didn't really work, despite some strong passing and build up play. Stevanovic wasn't really able to create much in the middle, and without the same support from Borman on the left wing, Zavarise looked a lot less dangerous that Stevanovic did against San Jose. Tchani also disappointed in his more advanced role, having in my opinion his worst game as a TFC player. Javier Martina confirmed my opinion that his great performance against Portland was no guarantee of things to come and that he'll be a frustratingly inconsistent player. Many times in the first half he tried to do too much, refusing to lay the ball off to Gargan when he was being double teamed, and ending up doing nothing, and in the second half he was just straight forwardly poor, deservedly being taken off for Joao Plata.
Without Gordon and Santos, it would be unfair to criticise too much, especially against a defence as well organised and good as L.A's is, but this was a good example of where Dwayne de Rosario would have come in handy. The final ball was always lacking, the attacking play was always a bit too slow, and in general there wasn't the spark to create something out of nothing.
Having said all that, a point against what will be one of the best teams in the league when they finally click, is a good result, even if there was an element of luck with L.A hitting the woodwork 3 times. TFC almost got all 3 points with that would have been one of the unlikeliest goals ever had it gone in, wee Joao Plata finding himself with a free header in the box from a late free kick and forcing a save from Donovan Ricketts.
4 games unbeaten, unbeaten so far at home, and 6 points out of 5 games, it's a good start, and with two more home games coming up against weaker teams in D.C United and Columbus Crew, there's a good chance for more points to come. A weak early schedule has definitely helped, but overall, there's a lot of signs of progress and the more time the team can spend together in training, the better they should become. There's obviously still improvements that could be made among the defenders and the team's strength in depth up front was a bit exposed , but there were enough positives for this to be considered another step in the right direction.