In tying Real Salt Lake 0-0 at BMO field on Saturday evening Toronto FC clarified a few things.
Firstly - one could suppose - they are a point closer to making the MLS playoffs.
Secondly, they sure are a team that battles, fights, and competes in all of their games. In yesterday's match up against last season's MLS Cup Champions and clearly one of the best teams in this year's competition, it is difficult to argue against TFC's competitiveness, organization, and on this day, discipline.
Thirdly, and now more telling, the RSL game highlighted the missing talent factor which Sportsnet's Craig Forrest correctly pointed out. In this particular game Real Salt Lake provided the perfect barometer.
The match itself was one of two halves for Toronto FC. Taking into account the conditions, Toronto elected to line-up in a compact 4-4-2 with Dwayne DeRosario in a forward position and Ty Harden replacing Nana Attakora to form a solid centre back partnership with Adrian Cann. The half proved Toronto FC can compete with the best when firing on all cylinders yet time and again they were disappointing in the attacking third.
In the second half Preki smartly opted for a more offensive posture bringing on O'Brien White for Maxim Usanov and dropping DeRosario into a deeper midfield role. The game opened up a little for TFC but in the end it was RSL who always looked the more likely to score with the woodwork and Stefan Frei saving the day late on.
While the game lacked goals it was nevertheless a competitive contest with some quality moments particularly from Real Salt Lake. It is difficult to find a weak link in the RSL side primarily because their quality in depth, is layered nicely.
But for Toronto it really is about the lack of class in too many areas - wide positions, threatening pace up front, attacking play maker and so on. Preki has done a good job with what he has at his disposal - just about getting blood out of a stone. The next month though will be a significant test for the TFC side as their abilities will be stretched to the limit. And it may well prove too much to achieve the objective the club and TFC fans crave so badly.
Meanwhile it is ironic that in a week when Julian de Guzman has had his monetary value and attitude questioned - by this particular outlet - he then produces one of his better all round displays. It was not earth shattering or game breaking but it was disciplined, full of effort, and focused. And after de Guzman himself acknowledged Real Salt Lake as the best team currently in MLS it is interesting to note the salaries of their roster in comparison to TFC's: Javier Morales ($252,000), Kyle Beckerman ($250,000), and Jamison Olave ($240,000) are their top three earners while Chris Wingert ($125,000), Will Johnson ($89,891.43) and Fabian Espindola ($75,000) look absolute bargains for the quality they provide.
It really does illuminate the importance of prudent, skilful management of player acquisitions and trades in building a winning side on the field.
Stefan Frei (8)
TFC's best player on the day making some crucial stops at just the right time. Distribution and management of the penalty area were excellent today.
Maxim Usanov (6)
A bit unlucky to be taken off at half time. It was more tactical than on performance merit. Tenacious as usual and looked more disciplined in 1v1 situations.
Ty Harden (6)
A good solid performance. Concentration was focused for full 90 minutes. Solid in the air and in 1v1 defending situations he was competent The RSL diagonal runs in behind were an issue but in the end he held the line well.
Adrian Cann (7)
A quality performance from the maturing centre back. Lead the back four competently and played to his strengths. No errors on the ball (kept it simple), good in the air, and dominant when defending in 1v1's.
Nick Garcia (6)
A bit unlucky with his strike on goal in the second half. It indicates his willingness and energy to get forward. Along with his defensive cohorts, he held the back line well. No major errors on the ball which is now becoming a habit for the resilient defender.
Nick Labrocca (6)
Nothing seems to change with Labrocca. Hardworking as ever and more than decent on the ball in terms of his first touch and ability to retain possession. But nothing special beyond that and so he is becoming a microcosm of the team's fundamental problem - a cutting edge.
Julian de Guzman (7)
An improved performance from de Guzman. Connected passes better in this game than any other although they were rarely beyond 15 yards. Most importantly his concentration and interest in the game was alert and focused. He consistently held his defensive position when TFC were attacking, providing good balance for the team. His last ditch tackle in the penalty area late on typified his edge of a cliff type approach. It should be like that at all times however, especially if fans are expected to be flexible with his lack of attacking ingenuity.
Dan Gargan (6)
Looked good in his wide role in the first half. Being a tenacious hard worker, the wide position allows him to get forward where he proved capable. However, in the second half as a full back, he once again got exposed with his poor individual defending techniques. For reference, late on, he got beat by Chris Wingert and Will Johnson who then both hit the post. Needs to improve in this area, which is a staple skill for a defender.
Martin Saric (6)
Not really a wide player in a 4-4-2 formation which TFC played in the first half. Nevertheless, he is sturdy enough to do a competent job which he provided against RSL. Defensively was good but attacking wise, like his teammates, he lacked any kind of guile.
Dwayne DeRosario (6)
It is not that Dwayne had a bad game but when Mista played him through in the first half with a sublime pass his first touch let him down at the crucial moment. It sort of summed up his game throughout. Could not quite produce the extra bit of class TFC desperately required.
A better outing with some good passes and touches. The problem for Mista? He cannot penetrate the attacking third through running with or without the ball as his pace is limited. It hinders his threat. Preki keeps suggesting his fitness as a reason for his reserved impact but it is more esoteric than that.
O'Brien White (5)
Unfortunately, no impact on the game. Effort is always there but he will need to prove he can influence the game in some way over the next month. Needs to be threatening with his attacking third runs.
Jacob Peterson (NS)