Describing a soccer game as a game of two halves is an old cliché, but whenever Toronto FC plays a top European side in a midseason friendly, it rings true.
There is the first half, which is ordinarily a meaningless bit of jousting between two pairs of starters. The goal is to not get injured, any goals that might result from the play are secondary.
Then, there is the second half, and what can sometimes be the redeeming factor in these matches. That's when both clubs, although most importantly Toronto, trot out the young and unproven. The match opens up and there is far more chance of something spectacular.
That was the case again today, where a terribly boring first half gave way to a second half that was lively from both sides and resulted in the game's only goal: a goalazo from George Evans to give City a 1-0 victory.
For Toronto it meant bringing on a number of young Canadian talents: TFC II captain Chris Mannella, Jordan Hamilton, Manny Aparicio and Jonathan Osorio to join Jay Chapman who played the full 90 minutes.
"I learned more in a game like that than maybe a couple years of my life," said Chapman after the match. Asked what he learned most he said, "honestly just watching them play."
Alex Bono was another youngster who made an impact on the game coming in to relieve Joe Bendik after 30 minutes. He was named the man of the match and thoroughly deserved it, making several saves before Evans beat him with a brilliant curler from outside of the box.
"Alex came on and made some big saves," said Greg Vanney after the match. "He was very surehanded and made some big plays, came off his line. His passing out of the back was very good."
Bendik for his part looked decent in the first half, playing thirty minutes before being substituted off. Time will tell whether or not he will be ready for Saturday's match, but he's feeling good and making progress towards a permanent return.
"The training I had yesterday was maybe more strenuous and I woke up and I was fine," explained the Toronto keeper after the match. "I would have liked a little more playing time but that was the plan and they stuck to it."
The plan also included taking Sebastian Giovinco off of the field at the same time Bendik was removed, putting him out of harm's way in terms of injuries. It was a smart move from Greg Vanney who fully recognized and acknowledged that this was not an important match.
In terms of scoring chances, the best ones came from Toronto's youngsters. Manny Aparicio played aggressive up top and hit the post on Toronto's best chance of the match. Meanwhile, Chris Mannella looked fantastic in the centre of midfield while Jordan Hamilton was lively up top.
"Me, [Aparicio], Chris, Oso and Jay we all go way back to starting in the academy and that's what they were trying to do today," explained Hamilton. "It's so easy to play with guys that you know what they are going to do and how they are going to play."
These types of matches that benefit the young players most of all, and that was evident again today. If they are going to keep playing these things, and all evidence points to the fact that they will, it is the second half that truly matters. It is the second half that Toronto FC's young players are never going to forget.