Improved TFC faces big test

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:08 AM ET

Toronto FC has won three games in a row. The team sits above .500 for the first time in franchise history. It has not allowed a goal in two games. Toronto FC is this city's only major pro team with a winning record.

So, what does it get as a reward?

"I'd have to say it's probably our toughest game so far this season," said head coach John Carver yesterday, as the team prepares to meet Red Bull New York tomorrow.

There isn't a big margin for error in this MLS season because despite its success, a loss against Red Bull will leave Toronto just one spot removed from the standings basement.

"It's something I don't want to think about," said Carver, who so far seems to be pushing many of the right buttons in his first season.

Yesterday he showed his team a 30-minute video of their dominating 2-0 win over Kansas City -- then warned them that a sophomore team coming off a six-win season should not get too impressed with themselves. "We haven't taken our foot off the pedal. They can't afford to switch off. When it goes well it's important to reinforce the reasons why it went well. But I've told them make sure you don't think that you've cracked it because I've shown you some good stuff."

The season has gone so well even Carver admits to being "surprised." Since its 4-1 debacle in Washington the Reds have reeled off a win in Los Angeles and two more at home against Salt Lake and Kansas City. Better yet, there seems to be purpose and cohesion to their game that wasn't evident last season.

"I don't want to get carried away with the start. It has been great, I'm delighted with it," Carver said, "I thought we dominated the game (Saturday). Some of the passing sequences were fantastic. We had one sequence that had 19 passes with a shot at the end. And, it was all one or two touches. There was a lot of good stuff."

Last year the only thing these guys ever hit with a shot was their own foot. Not now. Thanks to Laurent Robert and Amado Guevara, MLS goalies no longer can consider a trip to Toronto a busman's holiday. Guevara's bending free kick Saturday is nominated for goal of the week on the MLS website. And, Carver is so pleased with the midfielders and defenders that Olivier Tebily, a 32-year-old who played with Glasgow and Birmingham City, isn't even guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup after being signed.

"He's ready to play and he's just got to be patient and wait for an opportunity," Carver said. That is an indication how far this team has come. Last season, anyone with Tebily's pedigree would've had the red carpet rolled from the airport to midfield for him. Now, guys are just as likely to be called up on the carpet as disposed to walking on it.

"As soon as I see (anyone lose focus) they'll fall by the wayside and someone will take their place," Carver said.

Tomorrow will be a gauge of how far this team must yet travel to be considered among the elite.

"I expect him to play," said Carver of Juan Pablo Angel, who scored 19 goals in just 24 games last season, but who missed New York's 2-0 win over San Jose with a strained hamstring.

Then there is Jozy Altidore, only 18, but a nine-goal scorer last season.

"Not a natural goal scorer but he'll get better as time goes on," Carver said. "(He's) a raw talent, great pace, great strength, power. He has got a great future -- I'd be surprised if he stayed in the MLS long."

But not much chance he'll be gone before tomorrow. Which could put the Reds just one Marco Velez misadventure from disaster.

Throw in Claudio Reyna, perhaps the greatest player ever spawned in America, and Dave Van Den Bergh with a team high eight assists last year, playing setup man and it's easy to see why Carver is feeling as antsy as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs.


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