The renovations at BMO Field are complete.
New grass, new north stands, new dugouts and even a new Wall of Honour were all on display at Toronto FC’s home opener Thursday night.
Watch: FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
However, the remaking of Toronto’s roster still has a long way to go before it gets to where coach Preki would like it. Despite a 2-1 win over the expansion Philadelphia Union Thursday in their home opener, the Toronto coach said the team still has a lot of work to do.
“We had a very disappointing first half,” he said after the match. “I thought we came out and we were nervous. It almost felt like we were scared to play. Was it because we were at home, the crowd, the expectations? I don’t know. I couldn’t figure it out. In all honesty I couldn’t wait for the halftime because that was not the way we want to play. That was not the way we want to go forward.”
But Preki should be pleased with the play of his defense. Despite a mistake that led to Philadelphia’s goal just before halftime, the trio of newcomers Raivis Hscanovics, Maksim Usanov and Adrian Cann, along with holdover Nana Attakora, put in a decent showing considering it never played together before.
“Before the game we talked for a good 20 to 30 minutes of how we wanted to play as a four because the last two games haven’t been organized,” said Attakora. “We fixed some of the problems before the game, so the main thing was we got to know what we like to do and how we were going to defend. I think it helped.”
After the second-half meltdown in New England last week, all eyes were on the back line for this one. Starting such an unfamiliar foursome—including TFC debutants Usanov and Cann—raised some eyebrows. However, the group looked organized and composed.
“I thought that they did a very solid job," Preki said. "I think we fell asleep on the goal, but it’s not just because of the back line. All over the field, we were soft on the goal, they passed around us very easily and we were just watching and Jordan Harvey made a good run behind us and caught us by surprise; that should have never happened.”
For a team with many new players, this performance was akin to taking baby steps before being able to walk. And with only three days before the side plays away to the Colorado Rapids, it’s a welcome sign. The key is Preki’s continued fearlessness in tinkering with his lineup to find the magic elixir. And he’ll continue to do it, even mid-game.
Not pleased with the ball movement in the first half, Preki made several halftime adjustments, inserting strikers Chad Barrett and O’Brian White, shifted Dwayne De Rosario back into his more customary attacking-midfield role, and bringing Nick LaBrocca into his comfort zone in the middle.
The move paid dividends with Barrett having a couple of good scoring chances and White’s hustle, ultimately, leading to the winning goal.
But amid everything, a strong positive was the collective play of De Rosario and designated player Julian de Guzman. De Ro was, well, De Ro. But more importantly, de Guzman showed flashes of why TFC director of soccer Mo Johnston worked so hard to woo the Canadian international last year. If de Guzman can consistently play his passing and holding game, the club will begin to look more and more like the outfit Preki wants to see.
Until then, leave it to Preki to be the discerning voice of reason.
“I said the other day: It feels almost like a preseason for us because we finally have 20 guys who we are training regularly with,” Preki said. “It’s going to take some time. We’re far away from where I want us to be. We’re very far away.”