Home MLS Toronto FC Toronto FC changes its formation, surprises Real Salt Lake

Toronto FC changes its formation, surprises Real Salt Lake

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Just when you thought Toronto FC was starting to stabilize after a wild six weeks of roster moves, Aron Winter had a few more tricks up his sleeve for Saturday’s match against Real Salt Lake.

Firstly, there was Torsten Frings starting the game at centre back, rather than his usual central midfield position. Then, as the opening whistle blew, the Reds deployed a 3-4-3 alignment rather than the 4-3-3 formation that Winter had used all season long.

All the changes worked for the best as Joao Plata’s 77th-minute strike gave TFC a 1-0 victory over RSL. The win snapped a six-game (0-4-2) winless streak in league play for Toronto and suddenly the Reds find themselves on a five-game unbeaten streak (3-0-2) in all competitions.

“It’s very important for us to get a result like this,” said Frings through an interpreter. “We’ve had some decent results with ties, but it’s very good for team spirit to finally get a win.”

Frings was a comfortable fit on the back line, bringing some rare stability to a centre back position that has been a revolving door for much of the season. Of course, TFC didn’t sign Frings to a Designated Player contract just to play him out of his natural position, though Winter said he wouldn’t hesitate to use Frings as a defender if the situation warranted.

“It depends how the opponent is playing,” Winter said. “Today we had to think a lot about should we play with four defenders or should we play with three defenders, two markers and a free man. At the end we made the choice because it was the best choice at the moment for the players that we had.”

The 3-4-3 alignment was perhaps the bigger surprise, given how often Winter has preached the value of getting his players to commit to a regular system. According to Julian de Guzman, the formation change was implemented just hours before the game began.

“We expected to come into this game in the typical 4-3-3 but before the game, we got the guys together and explained and broke down how Salt Lake played in the middle,” de Guzman said. “The guys quickly understood what needed to be done. If we could defend and stay organized as a team we’d all get our chance to play and allow us to attack.

“I think maybe the opportunities given against us were casual mistakes on our part but over the whole 90 minutes we were organized. It was great to see the guys react to this new system that was given to us the day of the game. That’s a sign of a professional team.”

Winter also gave credit to his team, noting that it was the Reds’ increasing comfort in their usual system that allowed them to suddenly adopt to the new formation.

“The thing that I want in the future…is when an opponent is playing like Real Salt Lake, you can play also 3-4-3 like we did today,” Winter said. “I have to give a big compliment to the team because we have done very well…I think that is a big compliment for the guys that you are watching also that every game there is progression and improvement.”

It seemed as if TFC’s new look caught Real off-guard, as the Reds controlled the opening 20 minutes and all three strikers (Plata, Danny Koevermans and Peri Marosevic) had decent scoring chances. RSL stormed back, however, and perhaps were unlucky to not get on the scoreboard. Kyle Beckerman and Fabian Espindola both found the crossbar and Alvaro Saborio slid a shot just outside the left post in the 44th minute.

Holding tough in net for TFC was Milos Kocic, making his first league appearance of the year in place of the injured Stefan Frei. In Kocic’s only other game at BMO Field this year (TFC’s 2-1 win over Real Esteli in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League qualifier on July 27), he made an amateurish ball-collecting mistake that led to Esteli’s only goal.

Kocic played well in the return fixture in Nicaragua, but now he found himself facing one of the top teams in Major League Soccer. Kocic found his BMO Field redemption, however, by making four saves to earn the clean sheet.

“If you work in an office and you make a mistake, you’re not going to quit because of one mistake,” Kocic said. “You’ve got to keep going, work hard and good things will happen. Everything turns around in life. I had a good game and the team had a good game in front of me and helped me get over that mistake. i didn’t even think about that [Real Esteli goal].”

Kocic came up big in the second half, first in deflecting a cross that surely would’ve led to a Real goal in the 70th minute. Then, with the Reds clinging to a 1-0 lead in stoppage time, Kocic made a superb block of a Will Johnson shot to keep TFC ahead.

Both TFC and RSL delivered some excellent chances during the game, but ironically, it was an innocuous-looking shot from Plata that led to the only goal. In the 77th minute, Plata stood at the edge of the box and sent a seeing-eye shot along the ground. The ball managed to evade three RSL defenders in the area plus a sliding Marosevic and banked in off the right post. It was the third MLS goal of the season for Plata and his sixth goal overall in all competitions.

Toronto FC will look to keep its hot streak going as the team begins its campaign in the CCL group stage on Thursday night. TFC will travel to Panama City to face seven-time Panamanian champions Tauro FC. The Reds’ next league is just three days later against the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park.

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