When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
A particularly appropriate adage considering Toronto FC's impressive 1-0 win over New England Revolution at BMO Field on Saturday afternoon.
Facing their fourth game in 10 days, and without some important impact players, the prospects of TFC winning looked rather bleak - especially to the dwindling nay-sayers.
With perennial MLS all-star Shalrie Joseph a surprise addition to the New England lineup, the 1-0 result was even more notable. Not that New England was at all inspiring as a representation of the standard of Major League Soccer. In fact, one could have surmised, had they have played another 90 minutes they would have still failed to score, such was their paucity for penetrating TFC's back four.
The contrast in both teams is striking after this particular encounter. While New England Revolution are on a definite down curve, Toronto FC continues to impress. Of course, they are still aesthetically difficult to please at times, but being in the business of winning, Preki's approach thus far has been spot on. Good mentality, terrific work ethic, good team spirit, a balanced team and well organized. It has allowed this current TFC team to maximize their potential.
For the people who are a little confused as to the circumstances behind Toronto FC's current success, listening to the post game comments from players and coaches can be revealing and therefore helpful. Starting with Preki, whose emphasis on hard work is consistently mentioned. It is a telling feature of who Preki is, what he was like as a player and what he stands for as a coach.
Now of course, who wants to admit they are not hard working? Not too many. Everything is relative though when it comes to this intangible trait and so it takes a coach of substance to recognize who he can count on to produce it - at the level required - and without any caveats. The new squad and the new mentality is representative of this core philosophy.
Then there are the representation of TFC player comments. It is difficult to not be impressed with intelligent and modest perspective. No excuses, no over-inflated thoughts on who they are and all tied in to a loyal togetherness of the missing players.
As for the game itself, it was TFC which started in the more lively, positive manner. Had Chad Barrett been more clinical they would have been 2-0 up at half time. Not that Barrett should be chastised for his misfortune. On the contrary, this was his best performance yet and typified why TFC have been so competitive with a modest squad of talent and experience.
In key areas there was a noticeable difference with the fluidity of TFC's play when in possession. They were certainly more direct particularly in the first 45 minutes but it was appropriate considering their mix of players. Lacking a midfield schemer to connect back to front was problematic in this regard but in the end playing to their strengths worked out and was appropriate on the day.
Even though New England had the return of the impressive Shalrie Joseph - albeit a little rusty - it was not enough for the Revolution to look anything but unimpressive as a team. Aside from a few early crosses, their ability to penetrate the TFC back line was poor and highlighted a lack of confidence. It also outlines a squad devoid of enough talent to get the job done, possibly, for the full season. In fact, Joseph's late inclusion was not just a savvy move on behalf of New England's head coach Steve Nicol it was also an indication of their desperate lack of impact players this year.
On the Shalrie Joseph surprise inclusion, Preki could do worse than read Sun Tze's The Art of War where the 'element of surprise' is a key tenet for leaders of a battle. Considering this particular encounter was always going to be a fight, one should really not have been 'surprised' at the tactical approach of Steve Nicol.
In the end though, it didn't matter for Toronto FC. Their depth of talent is clearly better than New England's and so is their mentality.
Frei, Gargan, Garcia, Cann, Hscanovics, Cronin, Sanyang , Saric, Peterson, Barrett, Ibrahim
Stefan Frei (7)
A good performance with a couple of unorthodox saves. Had to be alert as New England created enough corners to cause some concern. Goalkeeping chart looks good for TFC.
Dan Gargan (6)
Good mentality to work and compete but again a noticeable absence in terms of technical quality. A few stray passes could have been more costly. Having said that, he has been moved about into different positions as a utility player which is not always easy.
Adrian Cann (7)
Back to normal for Cann and with a 'no messing' approach. Read the game script quickly and adjusted his approach on the ball. Not particularly stressed by a weaker New England approach although an argument could be made that Cann's dominance over the Kheli Dube was the reason why the New England forward had a bad outing.
Nick Garcia (7)
The reward for his persistence over the past 3 months was a good display against New England. Assured and sensible on the ball he rarely put a foot wrong and defensively he held the line well. A confidence booster for the veteran MLS defender.
Raivis Hscanovics (6)
Scary at times with some of the things he does but overall an okay performance. After all, Sainey Nyassi tore him apart in the previous encounter, a 4-1 loss in New England. Based on the non-factor performance of Nyassi this time around, it is a credit to the Latvian's defensive performance and concentration.
Martin Saric (6)
A consistent performance from the tough midfield general. An early yellow card was a little harsh which hindered him a bit. He played his fighting role well but on his own he could not link the midfield to the forwards in any real convincing manner. Not really his role.
Amadou Sanyang (6)
If we can overlook the odd calamitous looking pass or tackle then it is difficult to not be impressed with the young Gambian midfield player. It was another solid performance from the gangly, athletic midfielder. His ability to get blocks or a toe into tackles in the defending third is impressive.
Sam Cronin (6)
Did not let the team down with his effort but in terms of real quality as a wide player there has to be questions marks based on this performance.
Jacob Peterson (7)
A very good performance from the technical wide player. Displayed terrific ability to hit crosses in behind the back four of New England and in doing so created a few clear cut chances for TFC to score. Still lacks fitness but he was tactically smart holding his runs when he needed to.
Chad Barrett (8)
Man of the match display from the energetic forward. Similar to the late 70's performance of a young Eric Gates from a Sir Bobby Robson inspired Ipswich Town team. He missed many chances in the game but still managed to score. More importantly his team won and his effort and all round contribution was the most significant factor. Ditto Chad Barrett versus New England. He is a player who is improving rapidly. Good first touch, holds off defenders, and exciting movement off the ball. With continued repetition on the training ground, working on his finishing skills, his ability and confidence to score goals will improve. Let's face it he has two great mentors in Preki and Mo Johnston.
Faud Ibrahim (5)
All things considered a rather disappointing display from the rarely used youngster. There were high hopes for him after last season's debut goal but based on this display at least, there has been a regression and not progression in his performance. Consistent poor first touch and too many give-aways appear to be the consequence.
O'Brien White (7)
An important contribution from White. He is getting noticeably better at holding the ball up and bringing other players into the game. His set-ups for Barrett to score were impressive and an indication of his progress.
Nick Labrocca (6)
Not a bad substitution to have in your ranks. Par for the course performance from the diminutive midfield player - neat and tidy combined with plenty of intelligent effort.
Gabe Gala (NS)