Providing Toronto FC do not become complacent in their final two Nutrilite Canadian Championship games versus the Vancouver Whitecaps, a second Canadian Championship will become a reality. TFC supporters should take comfort in the fact that with Preki as their head coach, team motivation will not be a problem.
Despite Wednesday night's hard fought 1-0 victory over the Montreal Impact at Saputo Stadium, the game performance itself outlined the differing quality between both teams. While Impact head coach Marcos Dos Santos deflected Montreal's poor showing onto TFC's high quality star players as the main difference between the sides, it goes deeper down the roster. Man for man, there is a widening gap appearing between the MLS and the second tier of professional soccer. With two years to upgrade, the Impact have been warned.
On the night, Toronto FC defended appropriately keeping tight lines from back to front while rarely high pressuring with their strikers. Allowing the Impact enough space in their own end to initially build up play worked for TFC. Whenever the Impact entered TFC's half they lacked any kind of real creativity to stress the backline or midfield of Toronto. Within a pass or two, or a dribble and cross, Toronto would pick up the ball and either keep possession more competently or counter attack directly. As the game wore on there was a noticeable difference between the sides. When in possession, TFC were neat, tidy and threatening, while the Impact were timid and unimaginative.
Defensively, the Impact never really came to terms with TFC's tactical method of playing. By allowing them to boss the game in midfield Montreal were always chasing and never looked serious about winning. Being out-competed in the engine room gives you little chance to win games, so Preki no doubt has won the coaching tilt in this season's battle with Montreal. Whether you quantify or qualify it, TFC were better prepared to win the games.
Not that TFC are perfect, in fact, far from it. There are still question marks: the depth in key areas; full back problems; and the lack of a wide player/striker in the mould of Manchester City's Adam Johnson who provokes opponents, creates and scores in a very direct manner. TFC have DeRosario, but he cannot play out wide and up front at the same time. These improvements will be necessary if the team wants to win ultimate prizes down the road.
From a management point of view, the toughest part of Preki's job has been done: changing the culture and creating a winning mentality. Behind the scenes, some people - including a few players - may not have been happy at the transformation and uncompromising approach by Preki, but now there are more believers. In getting through the turmoil the team clearly has a fighting and disciplined spirit which will bold well for them as they face an early season benchmark test in the form of the Los Angeles Galaxy.
It will be interesting to see if Preki elects to rest his stars again. One suspects this time, he will not. Maybe that was his plan all along.
Frei, Usmanov, Attakora, Cann, Garcia, Saric, de Guzman, Gala, Cronin, DeRosario, White
Stefan Frei (6)
A couple of errors in a relatively inactive game for him. Showed alertness and quickness in supporting his back four but was a little untidy with distribution.
Maxim Usanov (5)
A poor performance. No problem technically on the ball and he was his enthusiastic self but defensively he got beaten too often, fouled too often and did not block crosses, too often.
Adrian Cann (7)
Another solid performance but in fairness against very little opposition. Ability and composure on the ball was very good which highlights the advantage sometimes of converting a central midfield player into a defender.
Nana Attakora (7)
Same as Cann although not quite as comfortable on the ball. His pace and ability to read the game is vital for the back four.
Nick Garcia (6)
Aside from one clumsy moment he had a good performance. Defended well for the most part and on the ball he was good at threading neat passes. Cannot fault his determination to prove people wrong who have been overly critical. A gutsy display.
Julian de Guzman (7)
Some loose passes but his spirit and energy are back. It appears he has bought into Preki's program and as a result he is really working hard on both sides of the ball. Not a perfect game for him but without JDG the connectivity when in possession would be missing from TFC's game. Elements of swagger coming back which when channelled, are a good thing.
Martin Saric (7)
A decent performance. Great work ethic and some neat touches. Dominated a relatively weak Montreal midfield.
Gabe Gala (7)
A good performance. Still lacks physical power from a fitness perspective but this is improving. On the ball he showed some nice individual touches but in regards to going at defenders 1v1 and succeeding it will take time. The switch from left to right side was a feather in his cap as it was clearly to neutralize the effective de Roux from Montreal which he was able to do.
Sam Cronin (5)
He is desperate to do well but the harsh reality was he struggled. Not through effort and approach but more so through athletic ability to get things done, particularly defensively. In the first half he could not contain de Roux and in the second he got beat a few times, allowing too many crosses to be played in.
Dwayne DeRosario (8)
You will have to go back to pre-season to find an off centre performance from DeRosario. A simple tap in goal but if anyone was going to score on the night it was Dwayne. He had most of TFC's shots on net, provided some clever touches and was again an energizer for the team.
O'Brien White (6)
A quiet type game but looking more mature as a forward. His pace, athleticism and work ethic are beginning to stress defenders.
Chad Barrett (7)
A terrific set up for the goal but also some clever touches in the final third. Confidence is high at the moment.
Nick Labrocca (6)
Quiet but reliable contribution
Amadou Sanyang (NS)