TORONTO – Depth will be tested once more as Toronto FC braces for another three-match week as the campaign rolls on.
TFC head into Houston on Saturday to face the Dynamo, before an epic night in Guadalajara with the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League final set for Wednesday. Days later, they return home for a fixture against the Chicago Fire on Saturday at BMO Field.
It will take a blend of veteran experience and eager youth to see out the week. As the side experienced in Colorado last weekend, it will be a stiff challenge.
“It's up to the experienced guys to take that on and impart wisdom for the younger guys,” said Clint Irwin on Thursday. “The guys who made their debuts did well. It's not an easy situation, some of them flew in the day before; the altitude for those who hadn't adjusted. They competed well and they're only going to improve.”
“All these guys have talent; we've seen it at the USL level, in training with us,” added Irwin. “As they get more MLS minutes, they'll get more experience and confidence.”
Three players made their debuts against the Rapids: Liam Fraser, Ryan Telfer, and Julian Dunn.
“Liam did a nice job,” said Greg Vanney. “He's got a lot of quality on the ball, very confident and composed, good passer. The attacking side, he did great.”
“We asked him to do a lot of different things defensively, from playing in a midfield two, to playing alone, to then dropping back and playing centre-back... I said to him yesterday, 'You probably played, in one game as many roles as a lot of guys do over the course of a season'. That's not usually what want in your debut. You want some consistency and things to be clear. He did a nice job of managing it.”
Telfer was one of those who flew into Colorado on a days' notice.
“Ryan had a good start,” said Vanney. “He was clear on what he was trying to do on attacking side. Defensively, again, we asked him to play a lot of different roles; we were trying to find ways to get a result given we were down early.”
“You see what he has: incredible athleticism; he's a good soccer player,” continued Vanney. “For all of them, it's learning, at the MLS level, how quickly things happen, the sophistication of the players and teams they play against. Some of the [play] is quicker, so it's keeping up with speed, staying in tune with what happens in the game and making decisions.”
17-year old Dunn came on for Drew Moor in the 75th minute.
“Julian looked good,” said Vanney. “For a kid who is 17 years old he settled in quickly.”
“He has all the physical tools: he's big, he's strong, he's athletic,” detailed Vanney. “What surprised me was how quickly he started talking to guys around him to make sure things were organized, which is very smart for young guy. You want to make things as clear as you possible can. He was telling guys who to mark and where to be, to help himself out as much as those around him, which is good.”
“It comes down to dealing with players who are a little bit savvier, making decisions quicker and staying ahead of things rather than being caught in reactive states,” tasked Vanney. “He did a good job.”
And Aidan Daniels, who is yet to feature in MLS, was a force in Toronto FC II's USL match against North Carolina FC on Wednesday.
“He was the best player on the field,” said TFC II coach and academy director Laurent Guyot post-match. “Able to create chances and dribble players outside, to cross. And the physical performance was really good for him as well.”
In addition, it was announced on Friday that both Alan Mariano Mino, who excelled in his debut for TFC II on Wednesday, and Mitch Taintor, who captained the USL side last year before moving on to Sacramento Republic FC would be joining the first team – Taintor arrives on loan.
“This club has done very well with the young guys they've brought along,” said Jason Hernandez. “They're able to step into the first team, ready to contribute, and they don't look out of place. You saw that with a couple different players this past weekend. Those guys are going to be asked to contribute and step up to get a result this weekend in Houston.“
It falls on the veterans to shepherd this new blood into the side.
“There are guys with a lot of talent, young guys too,” said Irwin. “You know you're going to have your ups and downs, but continue to encourage them, make sure they're feeling good out there and know that they have the confidence of the guys around them.”
That at least three of them will have the minutes against Colorado under their belts will be a boon for the weeks ahead.
“Every experience comes with advantages,” said Hernandez. “Having the same faces, a little chemistry, and the same style as to understanding where guys are going to be and what to expect from each other, that can only play into our hands. Every experience helps.”
All are very much looking forward to Houston and beyond.
“I hope to get out there, do my best, and get the result,” said Dunn of the upcoming match.
Added Telfer: “We'll be ready come Saturday to take them head on.”