ORLANDO, Fla. – They flock to nearby Walt Disney World to relive the story of Cinderella, who went from pauper to princess at the snap of a magic wand. If only manager Aron Winter could do the same, then the metamorphosis he is overseeing at Toronto FC could take effect just as quickly.
But the reality is that the Dutchman and his staff need time. The plodding Toronto FC side of 2010 that slugged out every point and struggled to score goals is being remade in a 4-3-3 attack-minded revolution. In Thursday night’s 3-2 loss to the Houston Dynamo in the Disney Classic, fans saw glimpses of Winter’s vision.
But it is still far from a finished product.
“To change the system that we used to play, now we’re playing with three strikers,” Winter told MLSsoccer.com. “We need some time to get everything fixed. There are still a lot of things to do but I am satisfied.”
It’s not as simple as lining up the players in their new tactical system. Brand new players are being introduced to the roster, and Thursday's game was the first time Toronto had rolled out that 4-3-3 formation against an MLS team.
Full match highlights: TFC 2, HOU 3
TFC captain Dwayne De Rosario said the squad is undergoing a process and there is no rush to have the team clicking from the very start.
“We have quite a ways to go, but the main thing everyone understands the way we want to play and the way we need to play,” said De Rosario, who was nursing a sore rib cage after a collision with Houston’s goalkeeper. “It’s a long preseason and it’s a long season, so you don’t want to necessarily come into the season flying. You want to work your way up and hopefully we can do that.
“The way that coach Winter wants us to play is a style of play that we all like. But it’s just doing it over and over and getting repetition and then applying it in a game.”
In front of a four-man back line, De Rosario played between Ivo de Heus and Nick LaBrocca in the middle line of three. The three forwards in the first half were Javier Martina, Jamal Gay and Jacob Peterson.
And the two Toronto FC goals on Thursday night were a direct result of the new system being introduced by Winter.
In the seventh minute, Peterson made the cross-field run from the right side into space and converted a pass into the box from LaBrocca. The penalty kick scored by De Rosario was created when Gay ran onto a through ball from Martina into the box. Stretching the field and making penetrating runs into space are a chief characteristic of the new 4-3-3 system.
Both Winter and De Rosario sounded confident that the progress would be even more noticeable by March 19 and the opener at rivals Vancouver.
“We are still in the preseason and we still have another three and a half weeks,” Winter said. “When the league starts on the 19th of March, then we will be ready.”
Added De Rosario, “It’s a big test because we’re playing against another Canadian team in Vancouver and they want to stamp their authority in this league. But hopefully we can go there and get the result we’re looking for.”