Sunday, August 31, 2014

Nelsen and coaching staff said to be out- waiting for Bezbatchenko press conference at 4pm

So, you are a devoted fan and season seat holder, but you are not happy when the MLS schedule gives Toronto home games on the Labour Day weekend. You have a cottage tradition to respect and therefore you give your daughter your tickets and try to follow your Toronto FC soccer over the wi fi...

Bez (pre-game to press, I think Friday??) says that they are a good team and should be playing better (which is partially accurate and partially covering his inactive summer window). They are an experienced team, have had time to gel and should be getting results.
Toronto FC proceeds to flounder on the pitch and loses 3-0 to New England Revolution. My buddy at the game described it as "pathetic".
Coach Nelsen uses his post game press conference to defend his players and complain about GM Bez's comments. States that it increased the pressure and that Saturday should not have been a pressure game.
Sunday afternoon the news comes that Nelsen and his coaching staff have been fired. At this point it has been tweeted by John Molinaro and Paul Attfield and appeared on the Sportsnet website.

I am a blogger and a fan who understands the need for Toronto FC stability, but I will not be lamenting the loss of Ryan Nelsen. I doubted his connection to the team, the city and the country. I thought that he was overly protective of the players and had a disregard for the fans. If he was making progress as a coach as we entered September and October and a MLS playoff push, his players sure had a funny way of showing it.
He always made substitutions seemingly as an afterthought and well after the time that you would have thought a change would have an impact on the game. Tactics and stategy and formation were always basic and did not seem to evolve - ever.
I did not see this coming. I was guessing a Nelsen-Bez meeting and a patch it up process to move into the playoffs. But it makes a lot of sense....

CNE offers you rides, TFC offers you slides TFC 0 New England Revolution 3

Summer is a time when opportunities to get out of town are plentiful and TFC have not been offering a reason to stay around. Labour Day weekend always takes me to a great friend's cottage and therefore I was not at yesterday's home versus New England game. I had hoped to watch the game on my ipad, but putting the game on Sportsnet 360 and leaving the main network for darts (thanks Rogers) meant that I had to listen to the game on the radio.
You did not need the visuals to grasp that it was a disaster. TFC was clobbered by the New England Revolution 3-0, which is no way to handle a team that is competing for your playoff spot. For all of the disasters of TFC over the years, Toronto had never lost to New England when at home prior to this season. In 2014 now, it has happened twice. When was the last time you heard Toronto fans chant "this is our house"? It just isn't anymore. 
I have avoided pouring my exasperation into demanding that Nelsen and Bez be shown the door, but the exasperation is rising. Now it seems that Nelsen and Bez are sniping at each other and I am tempted to say a plague on both of your houses. The big boss Tim Leiweke is on the way out of the MLSE door and you have to wonder how many weeks 
Before the game Bez (Tim Bezbatchenko) had expressed his opinion that the team 
had the talent but it was time to raise their games. On one hand the TFC fan is very likely
to agree with his view that on the brink of September it is time to start grabbing results. It is self serving, Bez essentially saying that the GM has chosen the right players, time for the coach to motivate them.

After yesterday's loss Coach Nelsen was critical of Bez's statement to the media, he felt that it had increased pressure on his players. These two need to schedule a meeting - today. Not that the solution to this tailspin is that simple, didn't the Big Tim Leiweke meet with the team recently and give them a supportive speech about the foundation and the future? 

Nelsen is so protective of his players that I am suspecting it gets in the way of his motivating them. Combine that with his "late to the party" substitution patterns and his troubles with creating either a tactical sense of defending or a creative sense of attacking and you have a coach on thin ice. His survival depends on a playoff berth. Should he fall short of that, I would speculate that firing Nelsen would either be the last action of Tim Leiweke or the first action of the next guy.

The trading and signing deadline for the MLS is just days away. A move is critical, but a big move is not expected. Although Toronto has a few international spots on the roster, I am just not sure that a trade or a free agent signing is going to change the course of this playoff drive. 
Toronto FC has a home and away series with Philadelphia Union this week and the playoff drive could fly or flop within these upcoming days. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Job done, road travelled, crew subdued - Columbus Crew 2 Toronto FC 3

Toronto defeated the Columbus Crew for the third time in the 2014 season. I am not going to head to the TFC archives just now, but I suspect that it is the first time an opponent has been beaten three times by Toronto in a year. It was TFC's ninth victory and it is more than a little satisfying to calculate that a third of those victories were against Columbus. Can we play them every week?

It was not a masterpiece. Gritty efforts on the road are not very often things of beauty. TFC began the game with plenty of attack, but no finish. Columbus would counter from time to time and they just missed scoring off of a header by Bedell.
Late in the first half Luke Moore sent Gilberto in on the Crew keeper and his left foot put the ball into the net. However late in the half a murky penalty was awarded on a hand ball call in the box and Higuain scored the penalty.
The second half was more of a rollercoaster. Toronto had periods of smooth attack followed by sections of clunky defending. Osorio scored the second goal off of a rebound from a Luke Moore shot. Toronto allowed a goal curling in from distance that I thought Joe Bendik should have claimed and handled.
The winning goal was Luke Moore's finest moment in a TFC uniform so far. From a Warner corner kick, Moore sped past his cover and dove to head the ball into the corner behind his progress.
Columbus was done.
This victory puts Toronto into third place, 4 points ahead of 4th place Philly and 5 points behind 2nd place DC (grrrr- even a point from that night would have made a difference).
Next weekend will be the last in the stretch of road games, TFC visits Sporting Kansas City. My hopes are not high, but the pattern of playing only one game a week seems to have settled the team down.
Until then...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

That's more like it!!! Montreal 0 Toronto FC 2

TFC looked like a team today in Montreal. They had had a poor second half in Washington DC this past Wednesday and had recently been frustrating fans (and this blogger) for weeks. We had reached the point in the season when it was reasonable to expect progress and instead we were seeing individual efforts, a lack of scoring finish and often a group of players who looked like they had just met for the first time seconds before the game started.
Today it was Montreal that looked incoherent. Jermaine Defoe is injured (no details yet) and did not start or play today. A constant concern of TFC 2014 is that Defoe is the sole provider of goals. Today that worry was banished from view. Against Montreal both strikers, Gilberto and Luke Moore, scored goals and such was Toronto's dominance it is a surprise that only the two goals were scored.
The TFC central midfield of Bradley and Warner were strong, Montreal had the hardest time keeping up with them in the second half.  Both were controlling the ball well, showing a greater sense of where their teammates were and shutting down Montreal's attack.
Oduro, so often blazing down the wing was instrumental in both goals. Osorio on the left was hardly playing the role of a winger, but his more central role meant more room for left back Justin Morrow. Morrow continues to be the unsung hero of the team.
It was an incredibly young central defending pair of Nick Hagglund and Doneil Henry and both were quality. Late in the game Hagglund was so close to scoring a goal off of a corner he must be still shaking his head in wonder at the opportunity missed (and the combo of Perkins' touch and the crossbar).
Warren Creavalle showed why he was a wise acquisition for Toronto recently in the allocation trade with Houston. His play at rightback was solid. He had some challenges in the first half on the defending end, but his speed and passing confidence going forward has been a contribution that has made the loss of Mark Bloom to injury just a little easier to take.

Is it all sunshine and lollipops? Concerns include the extent of the Defoe injury, the continued late and puzzling substitutions of Coach Nelsen, the ability of MLS refs to slight TFC on a regular basis and get away with it and
Two road games ahead in early August. Next weekend in Columbus and Kansas City the weekend after that. Today's win puts TFC into third place. At the time of blogging it is unclear whether  fellow third place teams at the start of the day, New England and/or Columbus, can keep pace (New England is winning v NYRB and Columbus does not start v Chicago until later). Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

DC United 3 Toronto 0 - watching the team go down the drain...

There have been a few games in recent weeks that have inspired me to write a ranting and raving blog of anger. Then I have not posted the blog. I figure I am reading the team incorrectly or seeing only the bad side of the coach or might be too hasty in declaring the season a disaster brewing. I have been thinking of combining the rough draft of these unmade posts into a composite essay.
Toronto FC stunk tonight. They are a team with no punch, no finish around the net. In the first half they outshot DC by a wide margin, but their shots were either wild or mild. Eddie Johnson scored for DC almost as if he were taunting Toronto. Attack down the wing, cross it perfectly and the unmarked striker puts it in like this....
If this performance was an indication of a prolonged tailspin, you can wave goodbye to the playoffs tonight. In a matter of days the first and second place teams in the East have defeated TFC. Not much point in having games in hand compared to the other teams when you are going to go on a losing streak. Now the teams below Toronto have caught them as both Columbus and New England are tied with Toronto for third spot. New York is 2 points back and Philly is 3.
I am just a fan who blogs, no special qualifications, no playing credentials, not even a journalism background. Here's what I am thinking...

One segment of Toronto fans are part of the problem. They are the bandwagon fans looking for the next big thing. They do not commit, they would rather be fashionable than fanatical. They create a cosy atmosphere and it becomes hard to create a sense of urgency around a team when that segment has bought into the glitz and glamour.  I am afraid that MLSE better understands the bandwagon fan than the knowledgeable ones. It is strange because those fans in the soccer know have very high hopes and high standards and TFC understands that when they sign a Bradley, a Defoe, a Gilberto and acquire Cesar on loan. Then TFC loses sight of that when the gritty games are on the line and the tough work needs to be done.

Ryan Nelsen is part of the problem. I think his players are fond of him, too fond of him. I suspect that he creates a cosy atmosphere and showing up for big games has just not been part of cosy lately. I think Nelsen is too recently a player and has too much patience and not enough vision. I don't feel that he understands the high standards of the dedicated fan and demands enough. If TFC is to become a big club, performances like tonight's demand a reaction.

Tim Leiweke is part of the problem. It is his face that is prominent when TFC sign a big name. It is his name and face absent when we stink in Washington DC.

I know that wins in Montreal and Columbus will turn this slump around rather quickly. I am fed up with the limp performances of too many players on this team. I think that Nelsen needs to step up and get himself thrown out of a game the next time a ref costs us a scoring chance. I want to be proud of this team. Skills are nice, but energy, determination, urgency, sacrifice and working together need to appear. I am leery about what version of Toronto FC is going to be on display at Montreal this weekend. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

This is YOUR House Kansas City - Toronto lacks guts and skill and finish-TFC 1 SportingKC 2

Sporting Kansas City visited Toronto last night and it was a rare home game missed for me. I watched it on TSN. I had spent the day at the Hillside Music Festival just north of Guelph at it was just too much of geographical challenge to get from Wellington County to lakeside Toronto in time.
TFC went into halftime with a 1-0 lead. This was a lead that could have been greater had the ref made  a call on the taking down of Gilberto by Collin in a "last man back" situation. Toronto, both Oduro and Hagglund, hit the post. The ref, Mr. Uncle, had  been happier showing yellow cards to the home team than the visitors.
I am not sure if Ted Uncle is the name of a ref or a horrifying relative.
Then the second half began as one feared, Kansas City taking advantage of Toronto confusion and Zusi scoring to bring the game level. Toronto managed to get a better grip on the game, but playing without Jermaine Defoe (accumulation of yellow cards) meant that scoring was always going to be a challenge. Oduro created some action down the wing, but Moore and Jackson could not add some finish.
Then Oduro breaks down the wing and is pulled from behind. SKC sees yellow and you get the feeling that nothing short of gunfire is going to inspire this ref to clamp down on Kansas City. Then Gilberto gets wiped out and no call is made.

FINALLY in minute 75 a Kansas City player gets a red card - Besler for his 457th foul. Rather than Toronto taking advantage of KC down to 10 men, they subbed on Jacob Peterson (former Toronto FC player) who scored the go ahead goal for SKC.

I do feel that Nelsen takes too long to make substitutions. The first TFC change came after KC had completed their three. It is clear that Nelsen has more faith in Jackson than perhaps he should.

The fact is that Kansas City gets away with this, they have a combo of skill and playing on the edge. Toronto FC does not have the desire or the skill to compete.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Toronto FC 2 Tottenham Hotspurs 3

A clear but cool evening lakeside tonight. This was the first friendly that I was attending since year 1 - Benfica and then Aston Villa. This is not an indication that I am a raving opponent of the summer friendly. I guess I can see both sides to the argument. Most of the time I have avoided the friendlies because of price point or having a scheduling conflict or somebody else wanting the tickets. 
It was a different crowd, of course, since it was an optional purchase for the season ticket holders. A huge contingent of folks wearing Spurs gear. I am not sure how to measure these folks. If they are expat Londoners I suppose that global travel is such that they go back and see their team periodically. It would be sad to depend on North American tours for access to your team.
The Spurs fan were not an overwhelming force. THey were not together enough for any songs and  chants and when Toronto FC scored I felt that the crowd was behind them. Of course there was little in the way of south end supporters groups for TFC, they are the most likely to be somewhere grumbling about midseason friendlies.
I am not enough of a fan of Tottenham to know the strength of tonight's starting 11. Seeing Solardo and Lamella had me thinking that they started strong. The difference between Spurs and TFC was startling throughout the first half. The Spurs were smooth, well placed around the ball. It sometimes seemed as if it were a different ball on a different surface when Spurs were moving the ball around. Spurs had a ball that zipped and zoomed, always at a top speed. At one point I observed that the ball looked like it was on a monorail, under Spurs control.
Toronto had short passes, wild passes, bumpy bouncing passes, direct to the Spurs passes and "what are you thinking passes". The midfield of Lovitz, Warner, Oduro and Bekker were the culprits mostly, although Ashtone Morgan and Gilberto were making sure that every positional group had brutal contributions to make.
There was a sense that the two first half goals were inevitable. While Toronto were reeling around, THFC rode that quality passing and movement off the ball, that speed and dominant possession until a Spur was in a dangerous spot free from any defender and the ball was in the net. At the half they had scored two and you felt that they could easily run up the score.
If the marketing angle was that Jermaine Defoe wanted to show something to his old team, that something was probably a postcard, because he mailed it in tonight. I usually avoid the stat game as a ticket to nowhere, but I would like to see how many seconds Defoe had the ball at his feet, his passes attempted, completed, shots taken and any other measure. Part of it was an appalling lack of service, but Defoe was less than a show tonight. Chris Konopka was in the net for Toronto in the first half and Joe Bendik was probably the happiest player in the press box. I am sure that Konopka is rusty. He made some saves, but twice he looked out of his depth.
The second half might as well have been two different teams. I think that Kyle Bekker played the full game for Toronto, possibly Jeremy Hall and Ashtone Morgan too.
I think Spurs had a full change except for Brad Freidel in the net. I think that Tottenham were taking their foot off the pedal in the second half. Suddenly you saw less of the constant pressure leading to extended possession . I think that Toronto forwards were being given space and time. They were being allowed back into the game, in my humble opinion.
Weideman scored a goal and then the youngster, Jordan Hamilton scored for TFC to tie it up. Hamilton looked good. He had a great first touch and was a handful for defenders.
Yet, you sensed that Tottenham could turn it back on at any time and that they did. Andros Townsend found a channel (you know, a lane or a seam) and he curled a powerful beauty around Quillan Roberts who was Toronto's keeper in the second half.
It seems that the playing time with the Wilmington Hammerheads is a benefit to Hamilton and Roberts, they looked in good form. With Jeremy Hall playing in his old right back position, you wonder if either Bekker or Morgan are going to be heading south soon.
Next game is a big one, home against Kansas City. Defoe will not be playing due to going past the limit on yellow cards. Therefore it was wise to rest Michael Bradley, Joe Bendik and Justin Morrow tonight. Perhaps  we will see the TFC acquisition Warren Creavalle Saturday.
I won't be at the game, but will attempt to watch it on tv. Thanks for listening...