Three for Thursday: Which fringe players made case for more playing time in Canadian Championship?
It's no secret – MLS teams nowadays need all the depth they can get to compete on two, sometimes three fronts in the long North American soccer season. Canadian teams face the challenge earlier than the rest, with the Amway Canadian Championship running from April until May, throwing out an early test for squads still finding their feet.
The early start and the necessity for depth mean that plenty of players who had found playing time hard to come by get their chance to shine in the ACC, often even staking a claim to a place in the first team in the process. So, with three MLS teams having wrapped up their semifinal ties, which players made their cases to see more time in MLS play, not to mention the all-important final in two weeks' time?
1. Tommy Heinemann – Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Corey Hertzog's golazo may leave the lasting impression, but Heinemann – the old hand of this trio at age 26 – made the strongest case for more time under Martin Rennie with two solid performances against FC Edmonton.
He's always had a good mind for where and when to move – as my colleague Matthew Doyle points out, only two players, Chris Wondolowski and Dominic Oduro, found more big chances per 90 minutes in 2011 – a trait evident in both games. Perhaps even more crucially, his finishing is coming along, too, and should only get better as Heinemann develops further.
Even though he didn't put away all his chances in the ACC, the burly forward did manage to net the winning goal in the first leg and involve himself in some of the Whitecaps' more dangerous moves in the second-leg win, especially in the first half and in charging the near post prior to Edmonton's own goal in the second leg.
He's shown he can provide a different dimension to Vancouver's game going forward, as his improving touch, size and physical play help keep MLS center backs plenty occupied. So don't be surprised if Martin Rennie turns to the man he coached with the Carolina RailHawks more and more frequently.
2. Wandrille Lefèvre – Montreal Impact
The recent Homegrown addition didn't feature in the first leg of Montreal's 6-2 aggregate victory over Toronto FC, but replaced the injured Alessandro Nesta in last weekend's league victory over Chicago and parlayed his strong performance there (capped by a breathtaking outlet pass to the wing) into a start in the second leg.
After some jittery early moments, the 23-year-old, French-born player settled into his spot in central defense, doing an excellent job helping Hassoun Camara handle the dangerous Robbie Earnshaw while putting in a good all-around shift, showing his capability in the air, reading the game and playing out of the back.
With Nesta still nursing his injury, performances like Wednesday's will certainly boost Lefèvre's stock in the eyes of IMFC head coach Marco Schällibaum, possibly earning him more regular playing time across two – three if Montreal win it all in the ACC – competitions.
3. Andrew Wenger – Montreal Impact
Sorry Toronto FC, Montreal are going to shut you out one more time. (Though had Ashton Bennett seen more time on the field, he could well have made this list – keep an eye on him.)
Wenger, who's played just 59 MLS minutes over four games (no starts) in 2013, could be in line for plenty more after a strong showing over both semifinal legs. Though the Impact were admittedly flat and lacking punch in their first-leg loss, Wenger still did his part with some strong hold-up play.
His work as the Impact's target carried over to the second leg, when he occupied Toronto FC defenders for long stretches of the game, helping create gaps for Montreal to exploit before hammering home a goal of his own to round out the scoring in the rout.
Though Marco Di Vaio is certainly first choice, Wenger has shown he can provide a different look and strong foil for the Italian goal poacher, especially with Daniele Paponi suffering a hamstring strain that could keep him out four to six weeks.