Tonight Toronto FC took a step in the right direction. A shaky and unstable step, which probably did nothing to help their hamstring's going forward. But it was an important step back into the win column for a club that hasn't been there too much of late. The fact that they did it at BMO Field makes it that much more crucial.
As for who put them there, it was to be expected: Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe had the goals as Toronto took a 2-1 lead in their Voyageurs Cup Semi-Final with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Kekuta Manneh's goal for the visitors meant that Russel Teibert doesn't have to fall on his sword just yet. At least you would expect the Vancouver captain to keep up with Samurai traditions considering his hairstyle.
It was a young Whitecaps team that ultimately met Toronto FC's full squad, a byproduct of the latter not having MLS action this weekend. This proved to be a tough test for Toronto, who were not only expected to win the leg, but put it well away from contention.
"These games are really awkward," said manager Ryan Nelsen, "where you play against a young team that wants to prove themselves to their coach, and boy they were up for it."
Minus the winning goal from Michael Bradley, there was nothing pretty about the win for Toronto. The midfield was serviceable on the night, as Bradley once again controlled the middle of the park. Nakajima-Farran continues to put in good performances and was lively throughout for Toronto. Alvaro Rey's service let him down on a couple of occasions and Kyle Bekker recovered from a poor outing to once again be a shining light of possession in Toronto's midfield.
At times there were flashes of offensive brilliance, but most ultimately usually resulted in disappointment. Once again several chances were not converted by the club, who continually lack a killer instinct in the final third.
A big part of this was the play of Marco Carducci, the young goalkeeper for Vancouver who had an excellent match. His adversary, Joe Bendik in the Toronto goal, was also stellar. Things certainly look promising on that front for when Julio Cesar is away at the World Cup.
"Joe is an outstanding keeper," said Doniel Henry. "He's done well and he's positive and he doesn't let being behind [Cesar] get him down."
Henry himself was better less than a week after his mistakes partially cost Toronto points against New England. A crucial save off the line ultimately helped his team earn the victory, and otherwise he was sturdy for a Toronto backline that did their job for all but the final minutes.
The match was chippy throughout as Vancouver's young players were eager to prove that they deserved a more permanent place in the team. This culminated in a shoving match in the final minutes as Manneh tried to return the ball to the touch line as quickly as possible after scoring his goal.
That goal put a negative spin on what was otherwise a very positive performance from Toronto. They now face the reverse of this week when they head to Vancouver: the Caps have a bye while Toronto plays the New York Red Bulls.
"First and foremost it was good to win, especially after the last few games for us in the league," said Michael Bradley. "To give away that goal is disappointing, but at this point there is no use crying over spilled milk. We have no choice but to now get ourselves ready and to Vancouver with the same [winning] mentality."
When Toronto arrives in Vancouver they will be greeted by a team who have plenty of confidence when playing at BC Place. The club is 3-1-1 and have played their best soccer on their home grounds.
"We play different at BC Place, we really do," said Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson. "It's a super environment for us to play in and we're used to playing there."
It may have been two steps forward and one step back for Toronto FC, but that is considerably better than the one step forward two steps back that they have suffered the last two weeks in MLS. The next leg is May 14th at 10:30 PM EST.