Monty Python, Monty Hall, Field Marshall Montgomery, Monty Don, The Full Monty. Monty Panesar, can you hear me? Monty Panesar, your boys took one hell of a beating!
Alright, that's a little bit over the top, as 'the Monties' looked dangerous and certainly held their own until Toronto FC went 2-0 up early in the second half, but in the end TFC did what they should have done, and especially after Edmonton were reduced to ten men in the first half. Up until then, it had been a fairly even first half, and even after the red card to Shaun Saiko, FC Edmonton were giving as good as they got and had a few chances. Eventually though, TFC's experience, talent and numerical advantage took their toll and they took control, took advantage of some Edmonton mistakes and ruthlessly ground out a 3-0 win.
Fears that Aron Winter might not play a strong team proved unfounded as he went with a strong squad, only Adrian Cann, Julian De Guzman, Jacob Peterson and Javier Martina missing from what could be considered TFC's regular starting line-up.
Richard Eckersley started at Right Back, and looked very good going forward, combining well with Joao Plata, getting his first start at Right Wing. Eckersley was taken off at half time, which is hopefully a good sign that he impressed and was being saved for the game in Seattle on Saturday. So far, Javier Martina has been easily nullified out on the Right Wing, mainly due to the lack of support from the full back. It's no coincidence he looked much more dangerous against Columbus when playing on the left and supported by Danleigh Borman. If TFC can get good support on both flanks, that should make the attack that much more dangerous.
The other two players subbed off, Joao Plata and Alan Gordon off also had good games, and were instrumental in the scoring. Plata looked dangerous all night from the right and it was his pass/scuffed shot that led to Maicon Santos' opening goal in the first half. There was nothing accidental about the gorgeous pass from Plata to Gordon just into the second half. After the two exchanged passes, Plata split the defence for Gordon running from deep, which led to a bit of a scramble in the box and Gordon knocking home a rebound from a yard.
Gordon had another impressive game, aside from the goal, his movement and passing were exemplary, once again showing that he has the necessary footballing intelligence to thrive in Winter's new system.
After the second goal, TFC cruised home, adding a third when Edmonton's goalie charitably passed the ball straight to Santos who clinically finished, and then playing out the rest of the game without alarm. There was even a Nick Soolsma sighting, coming into the game for Plata in what seemed very reminiscent of the Detroit Pistons bringing in Darko Milicic as the "human victory cigar".
Obviously we shouldn't read too much into it, but it was damn nice to watch TFC be business like, play up to expectations and just get the job done. Now they can rest whoever they want for the return leg next week, and let a more experimental youthful team show what they can do. The other semi final is more delicately poised, Vancouver with a narrow 1-0 win in Montreal, so there'll be all to play at Empire Field next week.
It's really refreshing if not a bit unnerving to think that for once it's TFC who are in the comfortable position, but they totally earned it, putting out a serious lineup, riding their luck a bit and coming out with a good result from what could have been a tricky contest.