Play the Kids!
That’s been the rallying call/fear in TFC circles for some time now. After years of being among the most experienced MLS teams, the Reds last night rolled out an impossibly young team to take on Leon in the Concacaf Champions League.
In Mexico, no less. And, they got the all important away goal, drawing 1-1 in the first leg of the round of 16 tie.
In total, TFC gave 199 minutes to players 21 and younger last night. All academy grads and all payers that are in the Canadian system. As a point of comparison, the CanPL champion Forge struggled to meet the young Canadian playing time requirements at The Island Games last year, and in the championship game there was exactly zero minutes given to Canadians who were 21 and younger. TFC out young Canadianed the best team in the By Canadinas; for Canadians league.
TFC, we remind you, is a team that critics call “Team USA,” and not as a compliment.
Now, it was only one game and the Reds were missing several regulars, so it very much remains to be seen, but as a first impression it does appear that Chris Armas wasn’t making false promises when it comes to playing young players. Since 90% of TFC’s young players are Canadian, that can only be good news for those reading this who primarily care about Canadian development.
Based on first looks, it’s not that bad for TFC fans that don’t much care about the hoser element too. The kids were alright. If Armas’ desire to be more pressing is to be effective, Toronto is going to need to rely on those young legs to put the work in without hurting the team otherwise.
They did last night. In particular, Jacob Shaffelburg was a real stand-out. Filling the spot that Pablo Piatti would have last season, he didn’t seem out of place at all. He nearly created a goal less than a minute into the game, primarily from his effort in closing down the Leon defender to gain possession.
This is a player that, under Greg Vanney, was all but invisible last year. In fact, many were wondering if a loan move back to his hometown Halifax Wanderers might make sense.
Hands off, Halifax. He’s staying.
It wasn’t just the kids either. Although it must be said that Leon probably left a couple goals on the field, it wasn’t as if TFC looked completely outmatched. I’ve been watching the CCL a long time and I’ve seen a lot more lopsided games than last night.
When you factor in that this was TFC’s first game in more than four months, that they were missing five regulars and that Leon plays at altitude, a 1-1 draw is more than ok.
It gives TFC fans hope for the second leg, actually, where they now hold a slight advantage heading “home.”
I’m still not feeling particularly hopeful about the tie. Leon might be the most talented team in the draw and they are still going to be dangerous in the return leg. But, overall it’s hard not to look at the play last night and feel a little bit more hope for 2021 than you had at this time yesterday.