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DeVos' Shapes of MLS: TFC off to a flying start

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Jason deVos, TSN.ca
3/23/2014 6:41:01 PM
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THE FORMATIONS

Toronto FC lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, as it did last weekend in its 2-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders. There was one change to TFC's starting XI, as designated player, Gilberto, made his debut in a Toronto jersey, replacing Dwayne De Rosario up front.

DC United named an unchanged lineup from their 3-0 loss to the Columbus Crew on the opening weekend of the season (DC had a bye last weekend). Head coach Ben Olsen again chose to line up his team in a 4-4-2 diamond formation.

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THE GAME

Toronto FC's home debut wasn't pretty. Not because the players on display were poor, but because the pitch simply wasn't ready for soccer.

That is not the fault of the BMO Field grounds crew though, who did an admirable job getting the surface prepared for the game. But after the coldest winter in recent memory, it was always going to be an impossible task to turn the playing surface into the lush carpet that players come to expect.

While DC United boss Ben Olsen said the pitch "was as bad as I've ever seen in MLS", it didn't stop the players from trying to play. But the bobbly surface, which cut up as the game wore on, made it virtually impossible for the players to string long sequences of passes together.

Despite the difficult conditions (it was also cold and windy down on the pitch), there were some glimpses of what lies ahead for the long-suffering fans of Toronto FC.

The partnership between Jermain Defoe and Gilberto looks to be very promising. Defoe's movement in the final third was exceptional, and he had a number of chances in the first half to break the deadlock.

In Gilberto, Defoe has a partner who can serve as his perfect foil. The Brazilian was comfortable dropping deep to receive the ball, didn't shy away from the physical battle, and once he had the ball at his feet, was willing to drive at the back four or play the role of provider.

Michael Bradley was again a dominant force in midfield, and his partnership with Jonathan Osorio is also reason for optimism. They can both get caught ahead of the ball at times (as they did in Seattle last week for the Sounders' goal) but that is due more to their lack of familiarity than to any tactical negligence. The early signs are that these two players will be very influential for Toronto FC.

At the back, TFC looked comfortable all game. Both Doneil Henry and Steven Caldwell had strong games, with Henry winning everything in the air. In Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola, DC United have two very experienced front men, but Henry and Caldwell thwarted everything that the pair could throw their way.

THE TURNING POINT

Only one goal separated the teams at the final whistle, and it came from great work from Toronto's three designated players. Apparently, you do get what you pay for.

On the hour mark, Bradley picked up a square ball from Osorio in midfield, took one touch and floated a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Gilberto, who had made a great run in behind DC United's central defender, Jeff Parke.

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Gilberto settled the ball with a perfect first touch, and as the covering defender, Bobby Boswell, was closing him down, fired a right-footed shot on target.

Look at the positional awareness of Defoe when Gilberto is shooting; he put himself in the ideal position to pick up the rebound. He didn't charge in full-speed towards goal; instead, he held his run so that he could adjust his position, which gave him the best possible chance of recovering the ball.

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DC United goalkeeper, Bill Hamid, did very well to parry the hard, low shot from Gilberto. Bobby Boswell tried to hack the ball clear, but Defoe, who had taken up the ideal position inside the penalty area, intercepted his clearance.

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From there, Defoe did what he does best. He took one touch to set himself and one touch to fire the ball into the back of the net.

THE POSITIVES

In a scrappy game, it was encouraging to see the developing partnerships all over the pitch for Toronto FC.

The strength of this team is its spine: Defoe-Gilberto / Bradley-Osorio / Caldwell-Henry / Julio Cesar is as good a spine as any team in MLS. If those players can stay healthy (and not miss too many games due to this summer's World Cup), Toronto FC fans can look forward to playoff soccer for the first time in the club's history.

Defoe was a class apart against DC United. His movement to pull off the shoulders of the DC United defenders was something that all aspiring strikers should watch over and over again. But I thought that 20-year old Henry was immense for TFC.

I've said it before (and I promise you, I'll be saying it again) - Henry is going to be a real player.

THE NEGATIVES

Jackson had a game to forget, and I suspect that he could be getting a call from the League's Disciplinary Committee.

In the 50th minute, Jackson was booked for an altercation with DC United's Davy Arnaud. While the referee cautioned Jackson on the play, I think that video evidence will show that Jackson intentionally elbowed Arnaud off the ball – which could draw a suspension similar to the one received by Seattle's Clint Dempsey for striking TFC's Mark Bloom last weekend.

THE STAR MAN

With three goals in his first two games in MLS, Defoe is off to a flying start for Toronto FC.

Goals get the headlines – and rightly so – but it was Defoe's overall play that was so impressive. His movement and finishing ability are superb, and if his teammates can continue to deliver him good service, it is quite possible that Defoe will sit atop the league's scoring chart come the end of the season.

Never before has Toronto FC started the season with two victories. But a major investment in better players is paying dividends early on for TFC as they sit joint top of the Eastern Conference standings with maximum points from their first two games.

Jermain Defoe (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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