Sunday, May 17, 2015

New England Rev 1 Toronto FC 1 - A big step to gain a single point

Why does a draw against New England feel better than a victory over Montreal? TFC had the potential with any loss to stumble in the standings. Instead gaining a point against the Revs and now a week's rest gives them an opportunity to treat the next home game (vs Portland) as a fresh start...

It was a big step to get a point from New England.....on the road.
It was a big step to scramble and defend and not give up a late goal on the road (how we wish that had been learned back in Toronto eg Montreal and Houston).
It was a big step to survive the injury to Jozy Altidore early in the game.
It was fun watching Chris Konopka save the day and dodge bullets.
It was a big step to watch Coach Vanney make the late defensive substitutions of Jackson and Creavalle and have it pay off. I felt sorry that Coach Vanney has to look at those two as defensive subs... but it worked.
Ok, I have to squawk. How can you call taking advantage of being in an offside position when a shot has been made on net, the keeper has lost the ball after the save and THEN the advantage is cashed in?  Should have been a win...we will get them next time.

Is this the place to ponder the New Englanders glorification of armed uprisings?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

No wings, no fly TFC 3 Montreal 2 - Montreal through on aggregate

It is a TFC financial puzzle still unsolved, at least from this fan's point of view. You would think that the economic future of the team, the spending of millions on star players, would depend on reaping income from extra games in both the Canadian qualifying and then the CONCACAF Champions League. Last night Toronto was in position to qualify, leading Montreal by a goal on aggregate late in the game when they slipped up and allowed Dominic Oduro to score against them. Yes, the same Oduro who was woeful for TFC in 2014. I do not second guess the TFC decision to let Oduro go to Montreal, he was clearly not the answer for TFC. But what circle of hell does TFC occupy that lets the obvious traded player revenge script be such a constant?

 So, if I understand this correctly, TFC is now a year away from playing another Canadian qualifying game and TWO years away from a Champion's League since Canadian qualifying will now always be for the following year? Seems like your extra revenue plan is now friendlies, friendlies and friendlies (or Argos and outdoor hockey- but what am I saying? Tim L says this is a soccer first, second and third facility!!).

Some squawk and say that TFC needs defensive help. It seems to me that the Bez/Vanney experiment abandons too many defensive roles. Morgan was always pushing up, trying to help Osorio (who is trying to be a left winger) and Morrow is pushing up and spending more time as a winger than a back.  You can't surprise the other team with an overlap when Morrow never has somebody to overlap? No suprise that other teams exploit this weakness. Stay compact in your own back and attack the spaces Toronto creates when their back four expands all over when attacking seems to be the scouting report.
TFC needs threats out on the flanks and defenders backing them up. Osorio, Findley and Jackson are not the wingers we seek. Lovitz and Delgado might have promise and potential, but the wings are spots needed to be filled by summer trade or summer signing.
We stumble on...
We tried to crush, we were crushed instead

Monday, May 11, 2015

Squander (the sequel) Toronto FC 1 - Houston 2

A fan can have a difficult time seeing a game as a singular event. A season becomes a tangle of plot lines, character development or clashes, thrills, chills and surprises. You hope for the "ups" and cope with the "downs". TFC under Tim Leiweke has compounded the plot lines by making offseasons as gripping as seasons. Trouble is when you banish dull off seasons, having a dull game such as Sunday's new BMO Field opener seems a greater betrayal. All that buildup just to end with a feeling of having squandered an opportunity to change the TFC culture...again.
If TFC v Houston, the home opener, could be a singular event it was because we felt that the stage was set yesterday for a Hollywood ending to the Tim Leiweke in Toronto story.
His new stadium.
His new players.
His swan song.
He is leaving his leadership role with MLSE next month and what better way to bow out than with a TFC domination at the fancy expanded stadium? I was joking that if the day went according to script I was expecting news of a Tim Leiweke statue...
Instead it was flop and flounder time, a crappy performance from a collection of athletes that have yet to reach the status of a team. It was only weeks ago that Paul Pierce described the Toronto Raptors as a team lacking "it", the element within a team that makes them winners and makes other teams fear them. Keep Paul Pierce away from the soccer highlights, his analysis applies to TFC too.

I felt that it was an echo of too many other Toronto FC games, too many other chances to establish a home field advantage over the years seemed to be swirling in the breeze. Instead of  the dominating approach that the situation seems to call for, Toronto lays an egg. Part of the problem is a puzzle, home field Toronto has not yet become Michael Bradley's stomping grounds. Entering year two of buying tickets to watch Michael Bradley be frustrated is not how this plot line is supposed to run. It was not heartening to see Bradley and Altidore too often play as if they had just met recently. On a team that has so many players new to each other, the extended time that these two have shared on the US team is supposed to be the bedrock of Toronto success.

The trouble with TFC too often is that a weakness in one part of the formation helps to reveal a greater disaster in another. So the poor game of Bradley and Cheyrou in the middle of the midfield just seemed to make it easier for Houston to shut down Findley and Jackson on the wings. Now I accept that TFC is hoping that Robbie Findley is both a renovation project and at a new position, but call the experiment off. I think that Robbie Findley and Luke Moore play the same role for TFC, cagey vet with offensive skills. Great player to have off the bench late in the game, whether you are chasing a game or need offensive counter punching to protect a lead. If two vets on the bench can fit under the budget, great. TFC needs players who can truly attack from wide positions, not constant crosses that have no strategy behind them, no intended target. Both Jackson and Findley were subbed in the second half yesterday and it was a decision that could have been made at halftime (pre-game?). I am convinced that the second Houston goal, the winner, started with a cheap giveaway of the ball by Jackson inside the Houston penalty area. Ashtone Morgan and Jonathan Osorio contributed some energy and attack down the left wing in the latter stages of the second half, but we know that Osorio is not the attacking winger we seek. I would chose the GM Bezbatchenko solution (summer signings or trades) over the Coach Vanney solution (if he could teach wing attack skills- wouldn't players have them by now?).

The picture below seems destined for the textbook "How to beat TFC". Clog the middle, there is nothing to fear out on the flanks.

I hope for a different approach against Montreal. Go back to Lovitz and Delgado on the wings. Yet the true test are the MLS home games through May and June. Squander no more.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Montreal 1 Toronto FC 0

A strange qualification situation, last night's game was the first leg of two games to determine a Canadian champion and qualify for CONCACAF Champion's League in 2016. So it would be possible to defeat Montreal and then the winner of Whitecaps vs FC Edmonton and not clutter up the 2015 season.
That being said, Toronto FC did not display a burning desire to conquer Wednesday night. More of a determination to keep Montreal contained seemed the strategy and they were one moment short of having it work perfectly.
I think that in the back of Vanney's mind is that he could proceed with a cautious lineup and approach for the midweek game, because the May 10 home opener calls for something noisier.
Random thoughts

Smallest category of Toronto FC fans - those who are upset that TFC gave up on Dominic Oduro.

TFC tradition continued (1) - A young defensive pairing of Zavaletta and Hagglund looked capable with the exception of the Montreal McInerney goal.

TFC tradition continued (2) - It was interesting to watch Lovitz and Delgado play the wings. They are both clearly MLS level prospects rather than threats to take starting roles from Jackson, Findley or even Osorio. Toronto struggles to find players for the wings.

The always up to something award goes to - Luke Moore
The surprise playing time award goes to - Jay Chapman
 The can't wait for Sunday afternoon award goes  to - everyone.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Make the final --- Philadelphia Union 0 Toronto FC 1

Might I be the first blogger in history to begin a game report with a pic of Chris Konopka??

Sometimes I lose track of my bloggish intentions.  If "Mistake by the Lake" is intended to be both a fan's diary and a tactical view of TFC games, the tactical side has been suffering.  I find that watching game after game on television turns this blog into a mushy collection of media observations and a lot of mystery guesses. I think things such as "what are Jackson and Findley doing on the same wing?" or "have their been enough games for Gio to have as little confidence in Jackson getting a ball into the box as the rest of TFCdom?", but I lack the context of the field and formation to determine what is accident and what is design. TV angles and camera choices are more confusing than helpful, notably when it is a stadium you only watch a game in once a year.

Maybe the technology is just around the corner where you can have a great view of the full pitch and zoom in on different players. You could pull back to get a sense of the formation and zoom in to capture the one v one battle down the touchline or in front of the net. At least I watched today's game on conventional television (oh the streaming struggles of the game in Orlando). I don't watch curling, never will. So I associate Vic Rauter's voice (and Graham Leggat too) with World Cup television coverage from days of yore. It is always great when the TSN schedule gives us Rauter calling a TFC game. He may not be the most up to date on the squad and he can repeat himself too often, but you get the sense that he is glad to be there. I dream of the game that Vic Rauter calls with Jason DeVos. I would want Vic to send J.DV home for being a sourpuss right in the midst of the second half.

But enough sports media and on to the sport. It was very pleasing that TFC squeaked through in Philadelphia (actually Chester), winning their second game in a row, not giving up a goal since the first half in Dallas and heading back to Toronto where the home opener next Sunday beckons. My newest TFC trick is to halt the broadcast of the game with my pvr and then follow the game on Twitter. That way the tension of protecting a lead on the road is reduced. Philadelphia Union is a team struggling to score this year, yet they spent the afternoon scaring me. When they put on Sebastien Le Toux and Casey Conor, two players who seem to have a special knack for scoring against Toronto, to join Maurice Edu I felt that TFC karma calls for giving up either the lead or all the points. Chris Konopka was the Toronto keeper due to a Joe Bendik injury and allowing zero goals was a welcome contribution. The back four of Morgan, Morrow, Hagglund and Perquis were fine. Your confidence in Bradley and Cheyrou in the midfield has to be strong, because you are always going to wonder at the contributions of Jackson and Findley. Altidore and Gio as the strikers have been everything hoped for and more.

For the hibernating, allow me a summary of TFC 2015 so far. Toronto FC began the MLS 2015 season with 7 road games as their home stadium, BMO Field, was undergoing an expansion. The Philly game was the last of those road games. TFC now has a record of 3 wins, 0 ties, 4 losses
The opening game victory was in Vancouver.
The Columbus game was evenly matched until TFC went down to 10 men late in the first half- loss #1.
Both the RSL and the Chicago games had Toronto pull themselves back into games only to falter in classic collapse fashion - loss #2 and #3.
The Dallas game was a case of collapse at the start, spend three hours due to a weather delay and then look a better team in the end. Loss #4 and the start of the panic concerning coaching, formation and direction.

It may have been ugly, but beating both Orlando and Philly means that TFC returns to Toronto with a sense that a corner has been turned. They have 9 points, good enough for a tie in the last(6th) playoff space. They have a goal difference of 0, scoring and allowing 11 goals and have kept a clean sheet for the last two games.

(Now, I know that TFC has a Canadian Championship game Wednesday in Montreal, but I do not want the distraction. I will watch and cheer for TFC, but I think it would be smart to play the "C" team in Montreal. Toronto needs to make a huge splash on Sunday with their new stadium. Montreal will have the loss to Club America still ringing in their ears...).

I am not the only one who will be thrilled to find myself making my way to the stadium next Sunday to see the team, finally, in the flesh.  A renovated stadium (awash in double blue colours?) awaits.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Those TFC thriving at BMO Field (and don't force those Argos on us) Blues

This morning I was a guest on the Naz and Wally Sportshour on AM740, Sunday mornings from 9-10 am. They are good guys (despite their hockey addictions), but I feel that I was unable to establish the case for TFC and the love felt for a proper home ground  for Canadian soccer fully.  The protection that soccer fans are seeking when talk of throwing the Argos into what has been for many a year the national soccer stadium - BMO Field is connected to many things. Trust, investment, awareness and pride come into play. Soccer requires a quality surface to be a quality product. It is also unfair to say that TFC requires to be a great team on the field in order to deserve a proper playing surface. Nobody ever says that about any other team on the planet. 
I have tried to fill out some of the topics that came up on the radio, but hope it is comprehensive enough that listening in to the show is not required.

Why is hiring the right TFC President important?

In recent times Tim Leiweke has been the unofficial TFC president. He has signed the big player contracts. He came to Toronto on the strength of his LA Galaxy experience. He met with interested season ticket holders in March 2014 to introduce the stadium expansion. He promised that he would protect the soccer experience, keep BMO Field a soccer first facility.

When Leiweke leaves (this June) who maintains that promise? Some TFC fans never trusted Tim L in the first place, but a new hire TFC President will take on that role. The fear is that TFC will no longer have the attention of MLSE and suffer due to internal politics


When Mayor John Tory toured the facility recently (with Tim Leiweke) soccer fans listened carefully for the Tory pro-CFL bias. Tory said all the right things concerning a soccer first facility, but was that due to Leiweke? Too many Toronto politicians (Mark Grimes, Norm Kelly, and that obscure Ford fellow) have a pro-Argo bias and are too keen to trample over soccer fan concerns.

Why is MLSE not to be trusted?

They are split. The Rogers side wants a thriving Blue Jays selling tickets and strong baseball TV ratings. The Bell side owns TSN, so they want a thriving Argos because they have the exclusive contract to televise CFL games. However the Argos on their own lose money, so Bell (and/or Larry Tanenbaum) have not been in a hurry to buy the Argos.
TFC has been profitable, but spending on big contracts has squeezed that. Big name TFC is a gamble that bigger profits await with turning around the loser TFC history. TFC tv ratings have been miniscule.

Saving the Argos

Canadian football has fallen off the map in Toronto. I will gladly bet 99% of Ontario sports fans could not name the head football coach of the U of T Blues or the York U Lions. Toronto football fans follow US College and NFL. They would rather travel cross the border to tailgate than go to an Argo or Canadian university game
It has been a series of bad decisons that has constantly lowered the Argos. Putting the Argos in BMO Field is not a standalone solution to Argo fortunes. The Alouettes may play in a small stadium, but Quebec junior football and university football (Laval, UofMontreal, Sherbrooke, McGill, Bishop’s) are all thriving. It is possible to want Canadian football to both survive and thrive AND see plopping the Argos at BMO as a short sighted move.

Argos and TFC at the same stadium has the potential to be a lose - lose proposition. Wreck the playing surface (or go plastic) and you lose the purist soccer fan. Have the Argos dropped in and have to play second fiddle is not a help to them. The Blue Jays have given the Argos the short end of the scheduling stick for decades. What if they shift to this outdoor stadium and it is not the magic solution? The Argos need leadership and vision. Present Argo ownership is part of the problem - not part of the solution.

What are the big issues about CFL games in that stadium?

Length of playing field and a cheap tenant

Right now the playing field at BMO is not long enough for any style of North American football. It is 115 yards in length- NFL football needs 120 (field 100 yds+ 2x10 yard end zones) CFL football needs 150 yards (field 110 + 2x20 yard end zones).
So either the BMO Field north stands and/or south stands have to somehow make way for a larger field. Retractable stands that would keep fans close to the soccer action and pull back for CFL are a solution that has both mystery engineering questions and mystery costs.
How can you have Braley trying to sell the Argos, concerned about losing money for years AND have the same guy able to finance a huge money investment in what would be the world's FIRST soccer stadium that could also house a CFL team.
The Argos have a history of not investing in facilities. If they care little about presenting their own product in the best light (in the dome since 1989, prior to that they played in the “Mistake by the Lake), how can you expect them to care about soccer concerns?

Schedule conflicts will chew up real grass, doubts about other styles of playing surface

Internet rumours say that MLSE is trying to get future Grey Cups, the surefire CFL moneymaker, as part of a deal that sees both new Argo ownership and Argos at BMO
TFC fans see this as a field condition train wreck in the making. MLS has playoffs throughout November and the team in the finals for the MLS Cup with the best regular season gets to host. Trying to schedule an Argo playoff game, followed by a Grey Cup around two MLS playoff games and an MLS Cup in crummy November weather (actually MLS Cup shows up in early December) is going to be a huge mess. Leiweke has talked about replacing the natural grass of BMO Field with a hybrid product (plastic fibres wrapped around real grass to strengthen) and says that it has worked at Wembley in London, England. But Wembley hosts one NFL game per year and is the home ground of no club team.

Basic fairness

Why can the Blue Jays evict a tenant to protect their field, but TFC has to sacrifice their field as a result?

The X factors
TFC fans also fear that all this soccer vs Canadian football squabble is a sideshow. That MLSE will compromise both of those sports because their prime goal is outdoor Maple Leaf NHL games.

TFC fans also see the example of the Foxboro stadium in Massachusetts as a nightmare. The New England Patriots and the New England Revolution are owned by the same man and play in the same stadium. The soccer team is clearly the second class one by a mile. The playing surface is NFL friendly, soccer be damned.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Happy Birthday Mr. Hornby

Hornby at Highbury

Today is Nick Hornby's birthday. I have been aware for many a year that he and I were both born in 1957. I might have mentioned that too many times in my life.  Not my most pathetic attempt at reflected glory, but in the vicinity. (btw) The other 1957 birth that I am too fond of mentioning is Lyle Lovett, which somehow fits unless it doesn't.

I have read an awful lot of Nick Hornby and I do enjoy both his fiction and his non-fiction. A writer of humour and insight with obsessions directed at books, music and football seems to be a gift from heaven to my twisted mind. He is one of those writers that I am unsure that I would enjoy the company of. Perhaps he fits better into my scheme of the world as a magnetic force than an actual human. So it takes a bit of energy to wish him a happy birthday. It means that I am treating him like a person.

It all goes back to "Fever Pitch", his non-fiction tale of growing up and growing into and then being totally gripped by his devotion to Arsenal Football Club. I had combined writing and football from before I read Hornby, but nothing will ever weld those things together more than "Fever Pitch". I lived in England for a time in 1979 and 1980 and I entertain the notion that I might have attended a match at Highbury. That seems important to me. As if breathing the same air and watching Liam Brady at the same time means a connection. Did I mention pathetic attempts at reflected glory?

No Hornby, no Mistake by the Lake I would argue. Following a team from afar was a primitive matter in my youth and TFC gave me an opportunity (long after my youth) to be with a team from day 1 and contribute to a legacy that I only glimpsed with Arsenal back then.  (Funny too, that over the years since I have been more aware of my father's history and legacy and consider Everton the team deserving of my support from afar).
I only hope that from time to time my blogging has even a microscopic touch of Hornby in that I attempt to catch the self-imposed mental suffering and those small glimpses of glory that come with following a football team. TFC wallows in the former, might completely avoid the latter.

 Not sure that I have captured what I intended to convey here, so I will let you get back to your cake and candles.