Tim Bezbatchenko must have been grinning from ear to ear as he watched the team he built battle the San Jose Earthquakes in their eleventh match of the MLS season. On this occasion, at home, in front of a crowd that is consistently getting more and more optimistic, his side won their sixth match of the campaign. That is the same amount of matches they won all of last season.
But it was not just what happened on the day for Toronto FC, it was who orchestrated the 1-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes that made the club’s general manager look good. Whether or not he played a big role in the acquisition, designated player Jermain Defoe scored his seventh of the season. More importantly, it was his fourth game winner.
"I thought we were the better team," said Defoe of the clubs performance, "especially the first half where they really didn't create any chances. They were sort of like an English team where they had [Lenhart] up front and he causes some problems. Our defense was unbelievable today as they won the game for us."
It was Collen Warner, one of the latest acquisitions, who was the man of the match for Toronto. His play made a world of difference for a club who have struggled in the midfield. It certainly shed a more positive light on the controversial deal that saw him join the club in exchange for fan favourite Issey Nakajima-Farran.
"I think you saw why we brought the man in," said Manager Ryan Nelsen. "He was very good again, and he will only get better and better, once he understands the system that we play."
With Warner leading the way, the club were able to control the midfield in a way they have rarely done so far this season. This was especially true in a very good first half. Jonathan Osorio still wasn't at his best, but did play well defensively. Kyle Bekker's season of up and down continued, this time on a more positive note. He did, however, look like he's been giving Jackson shooting lessons as the Brazilian had a couple of long range attempts go well wide.
"We were just trying to balance each other out," said Bekker of himself and Warner in the midfield. "If he was playing a little deeper I was trying to move up, so we can press them a little higher, because when we sit back we tend to get a little passive."
At the back, Bezbatchenko's draft selection of Nick Hagglund continues to impress. On this occasion the potential rookie of the year candidate showed a different side of his game: attacking flair. He drew the penalty that was the different in the match. Furthermore, an acrobatic attempt in the first half likely would have been the goal of the year for Toronto had it beat Jon Busch in the San Jose goal.
"Why not?" Hagglund said of his scissor-kick, with a laugh. Of his other chances: "I wish one of them went in. I was just putting myself in good positions. Collen [Warner] was whipping in some good balls and so I was just trying to get my head on it."
While Defoe will get all the credit based on the scoresheet, Luke Moore was equally good. Yet another recent acquisition, he created several chances and came very close to scoring on a couple of occasions. He also showed flexibility as his role was likely very different from what was originally intended when he, Gilberto and Defoe were all in the lineup.
The club were able to overcome a couple of tough situations on the day. Kyle Bekker was thrust into the starting lineup after an injury from Wednesday affected Gilberto in the warmup. Furthermore, personal matters meant Justin Morrow had to make a couple of flights and wasn't in ideal condition to start the match.
Dominic Oduro, the latest of Toronto FC’s acquisitions, made a short debut. But in that time he looked very much like he fit well into the team. His speed was a definite asset in the counterattack, and he’s a different option from any Toronto have in terms of a late game impact substitution.
As usual, it wasn’t all positive for the club. The second half was disappointing, as Toronto bunkered and invited pressure from the Earthquakes. But as they did most of the match, the San Jose Earthquakes posed little danger despite the opportunity TFC gave them.
It was a reminder of one of the main issues Toronto have had so far this season: a failure to RSVP to an open invitation to take control of the match. That, and a number of other reasons, are why, despite an impressive 6-4-1 record heading into the World Cup break, Toronto still has plenty of work to do during the break.
"I don’t think we are a team playing as well as we can," said Nelsen. "But we are gaining more points than I thought we’d get after 11 games, which just sound like a big contradiction. We’re not playing well but we are showing a lot of character and a lot of spirit which I love. We don’t concede very many chances which means we are always in games."
As Nelsen alluded to, while the product on the field has rarely been as picturesque as you'd hope for, the results have been far better than expected so far this season. The team has yet to play a poor squad, and have been able to get a lot of results on the road that would not have been the case in other years. They have achieved all this without their ideal lineup.
Going into the World Cup break there is a foundation for once, instead of a product that needs to be completely rebuild from scratch.