TORONTO - Will Wednesday’s stirring win be the magic elixir that propels Toronto FC to Major League Soccer relevance?
TFC, of course, stunned the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 to win a fourth straight Canadian title, despite being 18 points behind the second-year franchise already.
Nobody really can explain why Toronto has fared so well in CONCACAF matches, while finding league points impossible to come by.
“I don’t know. They are great opponents, they’re not less than in MLS,” head coach Aron Winter said Wednesday about the teams TFC has faced outside of the league.
“I don’t know what the difference is. I don’t have a theory ... We have demonstrated that we can play good football and also organized and that we can win games. But to give you a definition of why? I don’t know.”
Winter believes his side has proven it is capable of solid play and ’keeper Milos Kocic hopes that is the case.
“You lose nine games and all of a sudden you’re a champion,” Kocic marvelled.
“It’s a different mentality right now in the locker room. You need to celebrate, you need to feel happy inside. There’s always ways to turn your season around and this is the beginning of it.”
Julian de Guzman, ejected from the game for his part in a regrettable skirmish, said the just-completed tournament taught the club a few things.
“We’re aware when we play that full pressure, we make it uncomfortable for those guys on a tight pitch at BMO and with the fans it’s hard for the other team to get involved in the game,” de Guzman said.
“That’s something we need to realize and take into MLS games. Use this tight pitch to our advantage, don’t give teams too much space and respect and that’s what we demonstrated (Wednesday night).”
Winter and tournament MVP Ryan Johnson concurred.
“The lines between the defenders and midfielders was not (as) big and I think that’s the difference,” Winter said.
“A lot of the games at the beginning of the year we were too stretched out and were getting picked apart. It was very easy for teams to get open space and take advantage of us,” he said.
“But I think we’re figuring it out. We’re working on the problems we have.”
Winter insisted Danny Koevermans’ overplayed comments earlier in the week had nothing to do with the fact he didn’t start or play on Wednesday.
“Not at all,” said the coach, before going on to point out that Koevermans was set to enter the game for the injured Eric Avila.
Of course that’s right around when de Guzman was sent off, meaning another midfielder was needed, not a forward like Koevermans, who was sent back.
“The red card changed my mind ... I thought we needed at least somebody who can play in the midfield,” Winter said.
When they were on the field together, captain Torsten Frings, Avila and de Guzman dominated the game. The trio complements each other extremely well: Frings does a little bit of everything, de Guzman connects the defence with the midfield while Avila gets the offence moving.
“Playing with quality players to have that type of support, definitely brings the best out of you,” de Guzman said.
“To have Torsten back in his (favoured) spot is very helpful. The team was well balanced, well organized. When you have that type of influence and Eric going forward (he) kind of starts the attack, likes to take the risks. That’s something that’s been useful for us when we go forward.”
It is fitting that TFC has won the Voyageurs Cup four years in a row.
For all that the club does wrong, developing Canadian talent has been a major plus.
The 2012 victory would not have been possible without the fine play of Ashtone Morgan — who made Wednesday’s lone goal happen — and of fellow defender Adrian Cann in particular.
Cann battled all evening against burly striker Eric Hassli and turned him into a complete non-factor.
Back in the CONCACAF Champions League once more, TFC has previously competed against a number of potential opponents who have also qualified. These include the Los Angeles Galaxy (who the Reds upset earlier this year), the Seattle Sounders, Real Salt Lake and Houston Dynamo. Santos Laguna, the club that beat TFC before losing to Monterrey in the final and Nicaragua’s Real Esteli, a past TFC opponent.
Others qualified so far are: Tigres UANL and Chivas-Guadalajara (Mexico), AD Isidro Metapán, CD FAS and Aguil (El Salvador), LD Alajuelense and CS Herediano (Costa Rica), CSD Municipal and Club Xelajú MC (Guatemala), CD Olimpia and CD Marathón (Honduras).
A Panamanian side and three from the Caribbean will round out the field.
THE LAST WORD
According to Richard Eckersley, while the team is happy with its big win, the focus remains on getting on track against MLS opponents, starting on Saturday against the Philadelphia Union.
“We’re not going to get too carried away becase we are 0-9 we know that,” he said.
“We want to do well in the league and hopefully that can start Saturday.”