After the mid April game in Seattle, where Toronto FC looked absolutely hopeless and were lucky to come away with only a 3-0 loss, there's been a definite improvement, this was the 6th game since then and it was another good performance. Are TFC actually developing consistency?
The change that caused that was the switch of the midfield three from a 'point forward' triangle to the 'point back' formation we've seen recently. Whether that change was an acknowledgement that the system wasn't working team wide, or merely an adaptation to the player's abilities, Maicon Santos proved over a few games that he's not a good Attacking Midfielder, whereas Julian de Guzman can be a very good Defensive Midfielder, it's definitely made a big difference to the comfort level throughout the team.
De Guzman was suspended for Sunday's game against the Colorado Rapids, but Nathan Sturgis slipped into his spot and played well, playing definitely his best game in a TFC kit so far, and despite an entirely replaced midfield, and a starting lineup with no obvious Centre Forward, TFC were still able to come away from Colorado with a point.
It wasn't a great first half by any means, but TFC kept things solid, and if they didn't really look all that threatening, well neither did the Rapids. Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams did a good job keeping Conor Casey quiet, his strike partner Quincy Amarikwa was a lot more involved and lively, but fortunately for TFC, he's just not all that good, so nothing really came from his hard work, though he could very well have earned a penalty. For the second straight game, Adrian Cann was a bit slow in the tackle and got the man instead of the ball, but the ref didn't blow the whistle.
That happened right at the end of the first half, just after TFC missed their best chance of the game. It was a great counter attack move that must have had Aron Winter purring. It started in their own penalty area as Adrian Cann and Dan Gargan, both much maligned for their passing skills, calmly moved the ball out after a Rapids attack broke down. Mikael Yourassowsky and Joao Plata then combined well down the left, before a low cross from Yourassowsky found Nick Soolsma alone on the right side of the box, about 10 yards out. Rather than hit it first time, Soolsma took an extra touch, and then slipped as he got a weak shot off.
0-0 at half time then, and TFC managed to avoid another slow start to the second half, coming out and playing their most dangerous 15 or 20 minutes. TFC kept possession very well, Nathan Sturgis in particular controlling the midfield, and there was some consistent pressure put on the Rapids.
It was from more direct counter attacks again though that TFC had their best chances, Richard Eckersley, who had a very good game at Right Back won the ball in midfield in the 50th minute, took off down the right and had a hard shot saved by Matt Pickens. Later, from a Rapids corner, Stefan Frei eventually claimed the ball, and released Mikael Yourassowsky, he combined well with Javier Martina down the left before getting a shot off that Pickens just pushed on to the bar.
Aside from that there were few chances for TFCas they continued their recent trend of fading towards the end of the second half, sitting back more and more, and making defensive substitutions, this time taking off Nathan Sturgis for the rarely seen Nana Attakora. Fortunately the Rapids injury problems up front meant they weren't able to take advantage, their pressure, and 64% possesion by the end of the game, never really turned into scoring opportunities, and it ended up 0-0, a valuable and unlikely away point.
With any good system, if it's working well, you should be able to make individual changes and have the team carry on, and that's how it played out, with Sturgis replacing De Guzman very well. The 'point back' formation has enabled Tony Tchani to look good recently, using his athleticism to get forward, and his replacement Mikael Yourassowsky also looked very good, proving a genuine threat overlapping the left winger. The other new midfielder, Alen Stevanoivc didn't really do much though, and has probably fallen behind the more dangerous Javier Martina in the depth chart as replacements for Joao Plata when he goes off to play for Ecuador.
Plata had another fairly quiet game as his MLS education continued. After being very effectively double teamed by Vancouver in midweek, this time it was the speed of Marvell Wynne that stopped him from being as dangerous an attacking threat as he had previously showed. It was encouraging though that he didn't just keep trying and losing the ball, but adapted his game to pass more and maintain possession, and he still managed to get a couple of shots on goal when he drifted more into the middle, so a decent game from him, if not as exciting.
Mainly though, it was the defence that was the star of the show, putting in another good performance, and doing enough to keep the Rapids out. Dan Gargan is maybe the best advertisement for the point back's defensive solidity. Playing the last few games at Left Back, he's once again looked like the steady, more or less reliable squad player that he looked like under Preki's defensive system last year. Sunday he was going against Marvell Wynne, and for a while Sanna Nyassi, both quick and good attackers, and with a bit of help, he was able to minimise their impact, as well as looking good himself when he was able to get a bit further forward, making good simple decisions with the ball and helping to keep possession.
Fatigue has played an obvious part towards the end of a few games now, but generally TFC are looking solid at the back, even with a lot of changes, a welcome development after some inconsistent early performances. Until there are squad improvements that will enable TFC to comfortably and successfully play the more attacking entertaining style that Aron Winter initially promised, I'll certainly take the more pragmatic approach and consistency at at least one end of the pitch.