TORONTO - The desire to win is a phrase that frequents Aron Winterís media scrums each time the first-year manager receives questions before and after matches.
While that desire was absent in Torontoís forgettable 3-0 thrashing in Seattle, it represents the collective effort TFC displayed in its most complete game to date against Houston on Saturday.
Although Torontoís busy schedule demands the services of a deep and flexible roster, Winterís decision to make five changes to a first 11 that was thoroughly thumped by the Sounders shows the Dutchman means what he says.
Multiple changes at the back saw Richard Eckersley earn his first league start and Mikael Yourassowsky replace Danleigh Boreman on the left. Nolonger wearing the arm band, Maicon Santos has seen his time reduced while early-season success wasnít enough to keep Javier Martina on the pitch. The former Ajax man didnít even make the bench on the weekend.
Sitting Martina paved the way for 19-year-old Jaoa Plata to earn his first MLS start up top. Following two energetic outings against F.C. Edmonton, the Ecuadorian took full advantage, further endearing himself to the TFC faithful who have come to admire his tireless work ethic and desire.
The leagueís smallest player has played a part in each of TFCís past six goals and will be an important piece moving forward, especially if the Reds can get past Vancouver and into the CONCACAF Champions League which would tack on additional games through the summer.
Referencing Julian de Guzmanís positive showing in his post-game words, Winter seems to have moved the designated player into a more simplified defensive role following Tony Tchaniís return from red-card suspension.
De Guzman was influential in Torontoís defensive third, patrolling just in front of TFCís centre-halfs and connecting simple passes from the back. De Guzman looks much more comfortable letting Tchani and Jacob Peterson do most of the work while he sits in a similar role to the one he played at Deportivo La Coruna.
It appears Winter has found his best midfield setup with Tchani situated in an attacking role, Peterson drifting wide and de Guzman sitting in defensively to break up plays and possession at the back.
Still worrisome, the Reds controlled 75 minutes of the match but came close to conceding an equalizer in the late stages. Toronto dropped its attacking 4-3-3 into a defensive 4-5-1, allowing Houston to run at it for the final 20 minutes.
After Lovel Palmerís low drive cut the lead in half three minutes from time, a nervy ending to a match the Reds were better in must be avoided, especially on the road.
That said, what about that curious penalty recall in the 62nd minute that would have put TFC up 3-0? It should have put the game out of reach, right?
Yourassowsky lofted a pass over Houstonís back line for a streaking Plata. A heavy touch gifted Dynamo keeper Tally Hall a race for the ball and the pair met inside the penalty area.
At first glance, Plata appeared to have pushed the ball by Houstonís íkeeper before being taken to ground, forcing referee Jorge Gonzalez to point to the spot for the second time in the game.
Replays showed Houstonís goalkeeper palmed the ball just before taking out Plata with an arm bar to the chest.
Looking back, the referee was correct to rescind the caution Hall received and restart the match with a Houston free kick as the Dynamo íkeeper recovered the ball before the original play had ended.
TFC faces the leagueís second Texan club on short rest before returning to Toronto for a home date with Chicago on Saturday.
Coming off an uneventful 0-0 draw at D.C. United, FC Dallas is unbeaten in its past three matches dating back to a 2-1 win over the Galaxy.
The Reds have taken just a single point in four previous visits to Dallas. Dallas is a much weaker side than the one that competed in last yearís MLS Cup and the Hoops are far less dangerous after the departure of Dax McCarty.
They will also be without the services of last yearís league MVP.
The first of three major injuries to some of the leagueís best players, David Ferriera suffered a season-ending ankle break at the hands of Vancouver defender Jonathan Leathers in April.
- Salt Lakeís Javier Morales is out four months after an awkward challenge fractured and dislocated his ankle in a match with Chivas USA on the weekend.
- Sure, a freak streak of season-ending injuries have plagued some of the leagueís top players this season, but is anyone else tired of people complaining that the league is too hard?
- Speaking of injuries, the Galaxyís David Beckham escaped injury when his Cadillac rear-ended a Mitsubishi before Saturdayís blockbuster match with the Red Bulls. If the Mitsubishiís driver dives anywhere near as much as Becks does, expect a rather large insurance claim.
- The 2011 MLS player salaries are out and there are some head scratchers. Although he has put in some quality performances to start the season, is de Guzman worth what close to every other TFC player earns combined?
- You can check out Toronto FCís 2011 salary breakdown below.
2011 MLS Player Salaries
First number indicates annual base salary while the second number indicates a player's average annual guaranteed compensation.
Attakora-Gyan, Nana - $45,000.00, $45,000.00
Borman, Danleigh - $42,000.00, $42,000.00
Bouchiba, Elbekay -$92,004.00, $92,004.00
Cann, Adrian - $123,996.00, $132,746.00
Cordon, Oscar - $32,604.00, $32,604.00
de Guzman, Julian - $1,863,996.00, $1,910,746.00
Eckersley, Richard - $75,000.00, $90,000.00
Frei, Stefan - $100,000.00, $155,000.00
Gargan Daniel $70,000.00, $70,000.00
Gold, Matt - $42,000.00, $42,000.00
Gordon, Alan - $96,504.00, $96,504.00
Harden, Ty - $65,000.00, $73,666.67
Henry, Doneil - $42,000.00, $43,000.00
Kocic, Milos - $42,000.00, $42,000.00
Lindsay, Nicholas - $42,000.00, $43,000.00
Makubuya, Keith - $32,604.00, $32,604.00
Martina, Javier - $89,460.00, $96,140.75
Morgan, Ashtone - $32,604.00, $32,604.00
Omphroy, Demitrius - $42,000.00, $42,000.00
Peterson, Jacob - $142,500.00, $150,775.00
Plata, Joao - $42,000.00, $42,000.00
Santos, Maicon - $126,000.00, $126,000.00
Soolsma, Nick - $86,004.00, $86,004.00
Stevanovic, Alen - $240,000.00, $250,000.00
Stinson, Matthew - $32,604.00, $32,604.00
Sturgis, Nathan - $85,000.00, $89,250.00
Tchani, Tony - $90,000.00, $194,000.00
Williams, Dicoy - $50,004.00, $50,004.00
Yourassowsky, Mikael - $80,004.00, $81,670.67
Zavarise, Gianluca - $42,000.00, $46,517.75
Source: Major League Soccer Player's Union