At times this season, it has been a little disheartening following Canada's two Major League Soccer clubs. Wins have been few and far between, and goals at a premium, but this weekend both Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps put on a show that was well worth watching, with both team's games producing six goals.
The Whitecaps will be by far the happier of the two teams after beating Chicago Fire 4-2 at home, while Toronto FC's 3-3 tie at D.C. United felt more like a loss. In a game that had drama from the very beginning, Toronto were undone by their own mistakes as well as their former captain Dwayne De Rosario. Playing with a man advantage from the seventh minute when D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid was sent off, Toronto took advantage going forward, but were far too easily undone at the back. In the end, they almost lost the game when De Rosario forced a stoppage time save from goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
The main positive for Toronto coach Aron Winter to take from the game was the way in which his team attacked in the second half. Following the mid-season reshaping of the squad, the Reds now have many more attacking options to call upon to change games. After failing to find a breakthrough against 10 men in the first half, Winter's half time introduction of new signing Peri Marosevic produced an almost immediate impact.
Prior to their 2-2 tie in Portland last week, Toronto had only scored eight goals in a total of 11 road games. Now they have scored five in their last two. Talking to Winter following the match, he was pleased with the opportunities created by his side, but did not hide his disappointment at the way in which they had thrown away two points, describing his team as "unprofessional." For Winter, it was a frustrating end to a week that actually produced a positive return, with draws on the road in Portland and Washington and a Champions League victory sandwiched in between.
After the massive overhaul of personnel in Toronto, the depth of the squad in midfield and attack is certainly an upgrade, but the defence continues to be a worry. Andy Iro is taking time to settle in and was at fault for two of the three goals conceded, although the coaching staff still believe he will prove a valuable addition.
On the plus side, Torsten Frings once again led the team superbly and was involved throughout. The German had 119 touches in the game, significantly more than any other player on the pitch. His reading of the game and distribution continue to impress. Julian de Guzman also shone following his introduction into the match off the bench in the second half. It was great to see de Guzman finally get off the mark with his first goal for the club, but he also had an extremely impressive 96% success rate with his passing.
Despite some strong performances in the TFC ranks, there was only ever going to be one recipient of the Man-of-the-Match award. After his hat-trick on Saturday, De Rosario now has a total of nine goals this season for three different teams in MLS, putting him two behind Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry in the race for the Golden Boot.
One goal ahead of De Rosario is Whitecaps frontman Eric Hassli. The big French striker was a key piece in his team's 4-2 win over Chicago Fire at Empire Field, scoring two goals, assisting on one, and also missing a penalty. His value to the Whitecaps can't be understated. He is proving to be a shrewd signing and an excellent use of a Designated Player roster spot. Hassli's 10 goals have come from just 16 matches in which he has played a total of 1204 minutes, a strike rate unmatched in MLS.
Over my career, I've heard athletes attribute success and failure to many different reasons, some more mainstream than others. Hassli came up with a new one on Sunday night in Vancouver, crediting his success to the great home cooking of a teammates' mother! Hassli is good friends with Davide Chiumuento and has been benefitting from the fact that the Swiss midfielder's mom is currently paying a visit to Vancouver. Hassli described her as "amazing" and said she has been cooking him "nice Italian meals." If Hassli can keep performing to his current level, maybe the Whitecaps should find a way to get Mom Chiumiento onto the payroll to ensure she stays around a little longer.
While Hassli stole the show, there were also goals from Camilo and Gershon Koffie as Vancouver scored four at home for the second time this season. Defensive frailties were still evident, but the Whitecaps looked dangerous going forward throughout the match and were able to take full advantage of a poor Chicago team.
The win for the Whitecaps was their third of the season and moves them to within two points of Toronto FC having played two games less. While both clubs are well outside the playoff places, the opportunity for the expansion 'Caps to finish above their cross-country rivals is still very much alive and will provide a goal to strive towards in the closing weeks of the MLS season.