It has been a long wait for many fans to get the chance to see Toronto FC in action once again. After a long winter of seeing the team slowly come together tonight was fans first chance to see the Reds in action. In the end all TFC could manage was a 2-2 draw against the home side but it is a result that matters very little in the big picture.
The good news is that with the exception of Danny Koevermans, who was taken off as a precaution after he seemed to pick up a small knock, all of the starters went at least 45 minutes while most of them lasted to the hour mark. Koevermans was playing tonight with a broken finger but only lasted a few minutes before being replaced by Nick Soolsma who looked plain out of place trying to play as a center forward. Koef was not the only TFC player dealing with a knock though as Luis Silva was unable to go tonight due to a small injury. Ty Harden also played no role in the game but there is no word from the club about his availability.
A game like this really is all about building fitness and making sure that players are on course to be able to play a full 90 when the meaningful games get here in just under two weeks. Tonight was a very good start in that regard but it also raised a lot of other questions.
The main thing that most fans will have been keeping an eye on was how the new comers at center back performed. Sadly, they did not turn in the sort of performance that was going to reassure fans that the problems had been fixed. Orlando's first goal came from a John Rooney penalty after poor play from Miguel Aceval and Geovanny Caicedo. Aceval spent too much time on the ball and then his poor pass left his partner scrambling before Caicedo resulted to a tug on the attackers shirt resulting in the penalty.
Other than that poor moment Aceval was able to turn in a fairly solid 60 minutes. His performance had the one low light but also had a high light in the form of a goal. Aceval scored to answer the Rooney penalty just a few minutes later. His goal came from a free kick that took a fortunate deflection off of the wall and left the goal keeper completely wrong footed. It was a lucky goal but it did prompt Danny Dichio to tweet, "Aceval will score plenty of Goals this year! I assure all you TFC fans this." If that is the case and Aceval can be the answer on set pieces, that would be a huge bonus for Toronto. Last season, TFC had a lot of trouble finding a player who had the ability to make the most of set pieces as most matches it was Torsten Frings taking them and sadly the majority of his set piece balls were nowhere close to threatening.
The score was level until the end of the first half but Orlando continued to press their advantage in the second half. They were rewarded for their efforts with a second goal from Kevin Molino in the 54th minute. The goal came after Toronto was caught napping a bit and their high defensive line led to an Orlando breakaway. Eventually, a pass was played across to Molino and despite a good block from Ashtone Morgan the rebound fell right to Molino who made his second chance count.
It was Frings that scored the second goal for TFC in the game tonight as he pushed forward into the box and was on the spot to calmly slot home his chance. The ball fell to Frings feet after a bit of a scrambled play and he used his right foot to provide the kind of finish that you would expect from a former German international. The Frings goal was the last action for many of the starters as Aron Winter decided to make 7 changes to his side after the 63rd minute marker.
After that it seemed to be all about Stefan Frei. He proved that he is already on good form and that he was not going to surrender the starting job without one hell of a fight. He made a handful of good saves in the second half including a brave take on an Orlando breakaway and a reaction save in the 94th minute that preserved the draw. His second half performance in this game made Frei the easy choice for man of the match and his early preseason performances are good indication that he will be the first choice keeper for Toronto when the season opens.
The game was a fairly entertaining affair with both teams creating chances, but more importantly it was the first chance for us to get a good look at a lot of the new faces. Aceval and Caicedo were given the chance to start in the center of the defense and Aceval showed a lot of good signs but Caicedo really struggled and looked a few steps slow. Both were guilty of taking too much time on the ball but that will certainly improve as they regain sharpness after a long lay off, though Caicedo will also need to improve his marking and decision making if he wants to succeed this season. He was replaced at the half by SuperDraft pick Aaron Maund who impressed in his 45 minutes of action. Coming in to the draft the biggest knock on Maund was that he lacked the poise and composure needed to do well in MLS, but there were no signs of that tonight as he cleared away every ball that came near him in the box and looked sharp on the tackle. He did have some issues playing the high line as he is not the fastest of defenders and struggled to match the speed of the Orlando strikers. For his first match at this level though, there are a lot of positives to be taken about his chances of making a contribution this season.
Reggie Lambe was the other new face who got a chance to start in this game with Ryan Johnson missing the game due to playing an earlier game with the Jamaican National team. Lambe showed the pace that we have all heard so much about but what he did not show was the decision making to make the most of that speed. When he got up and running it seemed to mean that he was not able to look around and pick out a good pass. That is something that might improve with more time, but it will need to if he is going to be the impact player that Toronto will be looking for him to be.
The rest of the new faces did not really have enough time on the field to show that much of what they had to offer. Winter gave about half an hour to Efrain Burgos Jr., Sergio Camargo, and Michael Green who will all be looking to win contracts. Recent academy grads Oscar Cordon, Matt Stinson, Ashtone Morgan, and Doniel Henry all played a role in the game reinforcing the fact that Toronto will be relying on academy products to make a serious contribution this season.
In the end we saw a lot of new faces, got a decent result, had a few questions answered, but had a lot of other questions raised. The real concern is that a lot of players looked like they were a long way away from being up to game speed and there is now less than 2 weeks until that March 7 game against the LA Galaxy. These next two games it will be crucial to see rapid improvement in the sharpness as just being fit will not be enough to beat the defending MLS champions.
Next up for Toronto will be a game against Swedish club BK Hacken on Tuesday night.