April 10, 2011 MLS--Toronto's Adjustments Pay Off At San Jose (from MLSsoccer.com)

Toronto's adjustments pay off at San Jose
Halftime pep talk, intro of de Guzman help TFC secure 1-1 tie
Duane Rollins
April 10, 2011

The public face of Toronto FC head coach Aron Winter is of a soft spoken man of few words. But according to forward Alan Gordon, the Dutchman betrayed that image during half-time of his team’s 1-1 draw at San Jose.

“Aron kind of went at us at half time,” Gordon told MLSsoccer.com by phone from San Jose. “[He told us] that the commitment wasn’t there.”

Indeed, despite a goal against the run from Gordon, the Earthquakes had enjoyed 60 percent possession during the game’s opening 45 minutes as well as the majority of the scoring chances. With only nine wins on the road all-time, it appeared that Toronto were well on their way to yet another loss away from home.

However, Gordon says the coach’s talk had the desired result. The Reds came out far more intense and organized and managed to hold on for their first road point of the season.

Following the game, Winter was blunt in his assessment of Toronto’s play.

“The first half was not good,” he said flatly. “We needed to make changes.”

To fix things, Winter decided to remove defender Nana Attakora, a key player for TFC in 2010 who had never been tactically subbed out from a game he had started prior to last week. By subbing out the 21-year-old – “He was not in the game,” said Winter of Attakora – for a second straight match, the coach demonstrated that no player on the Reds is beyond being singled out.

The most influential part of that substitution was the player that came on. Julian de Guzman, who’s still not fully recovered from offseason surgery, slotted into the central midfielder spot in Toronto’s 4-3-3 formation and lived up to his Designated Player status.

“I think that he changed the game,” Gordon said. “His ability to control the midfield and drive possession was vital.”

As a holding midfielder, de Guzman’s skills are not always appreciated by the casual fan. Additionally, Gordon said, de Guzman’s big contract clouds people’s perception of him.

“When guys see the big money, they tend to want the player to score a lot of goals and to be creative offensively,” Gordon said. “That’s not the role of a holding midfielder, but what he does out there is so important.”

De Guzman said that he was happy with his play, but he was even happier by the way that his injured knee responded.

“It was good,” he said. “It’s another 45 minutes and it helps with the confidence. What’s more important is there was no pain.”

The Canadian international suggested that he would be fully match fit by the end of the month. In the meantime, Toronto will continue to work him into the lineup whenever possible.

“Julian is a good player,” Winter said. “But in this league, you have to be careful. He’s come a long way. We have to go slowly.”

So long as TFC can continue to steal points on the road, they can likely afford to be careful with de Guzman. The player himself says that progress is being made every day towards making TFC a playoff team for the first time in club history.

“Tonight was a positive point,” de Guzman said. “We are getting better.”

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