After beating MLS champions LA Galaxy in an exciting two game series, Toronto FC has advanced to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, riding a high felt for undoubtedly the first time in the clubs' short history.
In the first game, Toronto tied the Galaxy at a packed Rogers Centre in Toronto. In the second game in Los Angeles, Toronto won to advance to the semifinals. With these two matches under their belt, Toronto looks confident going forward as MLS play starts.
This article will discuss 10 things we learned from Toronto FC's play in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Torsten Frings is the greatest talent that this soccer club has ever seen. Throughout both quarterfinal legs, Frings was asked to play in a central defensive role.
Due to long-term injuries to Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams, Toronto is very weak in the back. With Toronto FC coach Aron Winter using a 3-4-3 formation in these games, Frings needed to fill a void in defense, and he did just that.
Frings commanded the game from defense, and contributed on offense, running up and down the field. He provided service on Luis Silva's goal in the first leg, and was a rock on defense.
Hopefully Toronto can get healthy so that Frings can move back to the middle of the park. He looks poised to have a great season and lead this club to glory.
The best forward in these two matches has undoubtedly been Ryan Johnson.
Johnson looks set to put up impressive numbers in 2012. In the two quarterfinal games, he scored two nice goals and set up Nick Soolsma for the eventual series winning goal.
His pace, finishing and accuracy in crossing has been a revelation for Toronto. Hopefully he can continue this great run of form into MLS play.
Another thing we can take from these two matches is that Toronto has two starting goalies.
Stefan Frei has been a mainstay in goal for Toronto for years now. However, he played rather poorly in the first match in Toronto.
Milos Kocic has a good season last year when Frei was injured. Winter's decision to start Kocic last night in Los Angeles turned out to be genius. Kocic stopped shots from both Edson Buddle and Robbie Keane, who came in alone on net. Kocic was the man of the match and deserves a good look for the start in Seattle this weekend.
Having two number one keepers means simply that Toronto has assets. If Kocic can prove his worth, look for Frei to be dangled as trade bait to help boost the Toronto defense or attack.
Joao Plata had a breakout rookie season last year, becoming instantly famous for his work ethic and pace. He is easily one of the most entertaining TFC players.
His pace on the wing proved invaluable in the first leg, creating chance and pressuring the LA defense.
Despite only playing 45 minutes in each match, look for Plata to continue to be a spark plug for this offense in 2012.
I don't predict a sophomore slump for this speedy winger.
It has been a very long time coming, but Toronto has finally found their fullbacks. Richard Eckersley and Canadian Ashton Morgan have really preformed well early this season.
Eckersely has worked effectively in the back, creating chances offensively while being very responsible defensively.
Morgan has some work to do on his defensive game, but he looks to be a very hot prospect who will continue to develop and grow into Aron Winter's system.
It is great to see fullbacks who can contribute in all aspects of play. Both players are young and can hopefully continue their form and have great MLS seasons.
He's not David Beckham, but Silva proved he can play well in the MLS and be a source of energy for this club.
Silva scored a beautiful goal in Toronto in the first leg and came off the bench in the second half in Los Angeles. Silva provides speed and attacking options for Winter. He also appears to be very mature and responsible on the ball.
Silva will be a main part of this Toronto midfield this summer.
After missing the first leg due to suspension, Julian de Guzman started the second leg in the midfield for Toronto. After doing very little, he was replaced early in the second half.
If I may point one thing out, LA has three designated players, all three of whom played 90 minutes in both of these matches. The fact that de Guzman didn't play the entire match is not because of match fitness, but simply because he was invisible on the pitch.
Except for a few wild tackles, Julian did absolutely nothing once again to prove his worth for Toronto.
It is time to try to cut this player loose and use the designated spot properly. It has been a waste thus far.
Toronto played a defensive gamble last night in Los Angeles, pushing their defensive line very high up the pitch. This was like Russian roulette with speedy forwards challenging Toronto's defense all night.
Toronto seems very thin in the back. Frings obviously changes the complexion of defense, but it would be preferable to put him in the midfield to serve as a more of a distributor for this offensive-minded club.
With Cann likely to return soon, this could provide some strength. However, I still believe Toronto should try to make a splash for a strong center back as soon as possible.
Aron Winter came to Toronto preaching attacking play and attractive football. He believes in his system and has brought in players who can play an attacking style of game.
Players and fans alike are buying into this system. With a revamped 3-4-3 formation, Toronto has been able to score early and on command while maintaining a lead defensively (for the most part).
Toronto may concede a few, but look for goals in bunches in 2012, something fans in Toronto have been missing for five straight seasons.
After playing LA Galaxy twice in a week, one thing can be said for sure: Toronto should be able to hang with any team this season.
Current MLS champions LA Galaxy have a tremendous star-studded lineup. Two of their best players, Donovan and Keane, had been playing in England since January and are in mid-season form, despite their ineffectiveness in both matches.
Beckham, Keane, Donovan and Buddle were all but invisible on the pitch in both home and away matches. Toronto's system held the Galaxy in check despite some wonky moments.
Toronto will enter this season on a high, and now will be the sole MLS representative in the CONCACAF Champions League. They will square off against Mexican leaders Santos on March 27 at BMO field.