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TFC edge Whitecaps after two key signings bring hope

Mikael Yourassowsky #19 of Toronto FC battles with Peter Vagenas #33 of Vancouver Whitecaps FC during MLS action at BMO Field June 29, 2011 in Toronto.

Abelimages/2011 Getty Images

As far as appetizers go, this was definitely of the amuse-bouche variety, and not a particularly tasty one at that.

Though the record will show that Toronto FC won the game 1-0, not one of the 19,816 in attendance Wednesday mistook the first all-Canadian Major League Soccer matchup at BMO Field for anything other than a warm-up for Saturday's main course, when the Nutrilite Canadian Championship is once again on the line, more than a month after the original fixture was abandoned amid unplayable conditions.

But while the Whitecaps' second-string lineup left no doubt that its focus is already fervently honed on that meeting - with TFC terror Eric Hassli consigned to the bench for the first half - Toronto coach Aron Winter was hamstrung by a spate of injuries, leaving him no choice but to name a patchwork starting 11 to avenge the 4-2 season-opening loss at Vancouver's Empire Field.

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Thankfully, June 29 will go down in TFC annals for reasons other than a lacklustre contest decided by a 54th-minute penalty converted at the second time of asking by Nick Soolsma, his first goal for the club.

After nickel and diming the fans for much of TFC's first five years of existence, team owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment finally opened the purse strings Wednesday, signing not one, but two designated players in an effort to reinvigorate a franchise gone stale.

Neither brings the cachet of a David Beckham or a Thierry Henry, but then these kind of players don't exactly "grow on trees," to coin a term used by general manager Paul Mariner.

But German midfielder Torsten Frings and Dutch striker Danny Koevermans do bring something more important for a snake-bitten franchise such as Toronto, still searching for its maiden voyage to the promised land of the playoffs - a proven track record of success.

Frings, who has tasted the highest of highs with the German national team by reaching the final at both the 2002 World Cup and the 2008 European championship, should provide the kind of steely presence in the middle of the park that Julian de Guzman was supposed to bring when he signed on as TFC's first DP nearly two years ago.

The 34-year-old Frings wasted no time in crediting countryman Juergen Klinsmann - his coach at the 2006 World Cup and a TFC consultant - for convincing him to join Toronto, and selling him on the appeal of Winter's vision of Total Football.

And the Dutch coach was also elated at the potential impact of the 32-year-old Koevermans, who has what the coach termed a "normal" strike rate - a goal every two games - something that obviously bodes well for a team with the second-worst attack in MLS, with just 17 goals in 19 games thus far.

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The former PSV Eindhoven hitman certainly doesn't lack for confidence, spurning the typical striker squad numbers of 9 and 10 for the No. 14, last sported by some guy called Dwayne De Rosario.

Though the newcomers won't be eligible to play until after the international transfer window reopens on July 15 - with a July 20 home game against Dallas a likely date for their debuts - their arrival has re-energized the dressing room.

"It feels like a very good day overall for Toronto FC," said goalkeeper Stefan Frei. "Besides the win, which is an obvious thing, with the additions of the new players I'm very, very excited. … Danny and Torsten are very experienced and I think that's maybe what has been lacking with our team a bit.

"I think the average of our team before was maybe 24-25ish. They bring the leadership and the experience."

Winter went as far as to say the pair represent "half" the puzzle he is trying to complete in rebuilding TFC into something resembling a contending team, something that continues to look a long shot this season, even after the three points gained Wednesday night. Toronto is still one point back of the 10th and last playoff spot, but it has also played 19 games, considerably more than its nearest rivals for a playoff berth.

Still, TFC's outlook in league play is far more rosy than that of Vancouver right now, with the Whitecaps sitting dead last in MLS after the defeat. Coach Tommy Soehn, who replaced Teitur Thordarson last month, acknowledged he had fielded an under-strength lineup, but still expected better.

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"To be a good team you have to win on the road and do what it takes to win on the road," he said afterward. "Today was a good opportunity to do that and we let it slip."

Given that Vancouver has put all its marbles in one basket, Soehn won't be the only one counting on a better performance on Saturday.

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