Moises Orozco - March 3, 2012
Don Montague - MLS

Disney final proves TFC's academy focus is bearing fruit

ORLANDO, Fla. – No one gave them a chance against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night.

As soon as news came down that Toronto FC would field a young lineup of academy players and trialists against a vaunted Whitecaps side that had steamrolled the competition at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic, many envisioned a rout. The only question was how ugly would it get?

But in the end the Whitecaps were only able to squeak through with a 1-0 victory and TFC could argue that they deserved more from the title game.

“I’m very proud of them,” said Toronto FC assistant Jason Bent, who coached the team in place of Aron Winter. “They gave a good effort. We had some good chances as well when we could have possibly tied the game, but it wasn’t meant to be. But congratulations to Vancouver. … We gave them a good fight and a good account of ourselves.”

TFC opted to send home every player eligible for Wednesday night’s CONCACAF Champions League first leg against the LA Galaxy (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer). Even head coach Aron Winter and Bob de Klerk made the trip, leaving the Reds in the hand of Bent on Saturday.

Highlights: VAN 1, TFC 0

Bent is a former Canadian international and ex-MLS player, who coached the academy players before joining Winter’s staff last year.

“We were organized and every person gave 110 percent effort,” Bent said “They were hungry and had something to prove as it should be whether it’s young players or senior pros. Once they stepped between the white lines they gave a maximum effort tonight and they came up a bit short against some very experienced players out there.”

Two TFC players who are not cleared to play in the CCL on Wednesday night – regulars Nick Soolsma (suspension) and Eric Avila (cup tied) – stayed back in Orlando and marshaled the group against Vancouver which included 15-year-old Jordan Hamilton.

“I know we didn’t have the big-time players or the first team out there,” Avila told after the match. “But I’ve got to be proud of all of them because they came out here and played against a first team in Vancouver and it’s a great team. And we came out and held our own.”

For Vancouver, it was the most competitive, evenly played match of their four at the Disney tournament and Whitecaps manager Martin Rennie recognized it.

“Toronto FC worked really hard and did a lot of good things,” the Scotsman said. “I was impressed with their passing, their movement, the structure of their shape and everything about it. So it was a great test for us and it made us work hard for 90 minutes.”

TFC fans may not have come away with a trophy, but Saturday night was the first concrete proof that their club’s investment in the youth academy, including a $20 million academy complex, is already bearing fruit.

“The pillars are being laid down and hopefully as it continues it will get better and better,” Bent said. “We have a long way to go but the signs are promising that there was a 15 year old playing in that game today. The vision that Aron Winter and Bob de Klerk have brought into the club, wanting to build it up from the ground up is fantastic and it’s the right direction and the future of MLS.”

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