Sunday, April 13, 2014

Art vanishes, dullness returns, Gilberto needs lesson on failed DPs of Toronto TFC 0 Colorado 1

I am totally pissed at the lack of effort, the lack of creativity and the lack of tactical diversity displayed by Toronto FC (circa 2013?2012? etc) yesterday at the National Soccer Stadium.

I can't promise a coherent blog today.  I was felled by the flu late on Thursday and was still suffering when I decided to drag myself to the game Saturday afternoon. I don't think I have ever used my blog platform to salute my wife. She is beautiful, loyal, supportive and wonderful. A lesser person, a lesser fan would have found a way to have somebody else take our tickets for the afternoon. She got me there and got me through.

For the long time fan, the loyal supporter since day one, perhaps the hardest thing about losing to Colorado was losing to a team that included Edson Buddle, Nick Labrocca and Nathan Sturgis - all past Toronto FC players. It could have been worse, we were spared goals by Marvell Wynne.

I am not willing to watch Gilberto struggle anymore. I know it is a knee jerk reaction, but it has been building for a few games now.  I don't think that Gilberto has the muscle or the skill to make it in the MLS. I am predicting that if they stick with him as a starting striker he will go months before he scores. I will go even further and claim that when he scores it will be meaningless, an extra goal in a blowout or a consolation goal in a thumping loss. I think that he plays like a fancy boy, looks for the foul in critical situations instead of making the play that will create the goal. If Bright Dike was healthy I am convinced that he would be the striker partner for  Jermaine Defoe. Sorry to be Mr. Hindsight, but I am firmly in the rather have Laba than Gilberto camp right now. Gilberto, to my eyes, plays like a man with nothing to prove and little to offer. With Bradley and Defoe out of the line-up, it was Gilberto's time to prove something. I think it would have been worthwhile to pull in the translator at half time and tell Gilberto he needed to score in the next 35 minutes or he will be subbed.
I say bench him. Limit his minutes and make him earn his spot. His success in Toronto hangs in the balance.Toronto FC need a physical presence up front- why not use Hagglund, Agbossomounde or Richter as a crash and bash force up front?

The field conditions continue to be terrible. However it seems that Colorado were able to play a game far more suited to it than the home team. Too often TFC was trying to make the sweet short passes that were destined to hit a bump or a crater. Fire from distance should have been the home team motto.

I was aware that the Toronto FC midfield would be under the microscope - missing Bradley, Rey and Osorio. I am encouraged with the progress that Bekker continues to make, he hit the post with a shot that was a half centimetre away from making him the hero of the day. The knock on Bekker has been in the past that he is good on the ball, but disinterested when trying to win it back. I saw none of that Saturday.
 Jeremy Hall seemed to be lost at sea when Colorado scrambled around and scored, but for the most part Hall covers ground well, positions himself well and is a fine bench strength midfielder. We just can't expect offensive creation or wonderful passing from him. I thought that the Colorado ref took Nakajima-Farran out of the game early. I think that the Denver Broncos' linebackers would have been kinder and gentler to Issey Nakajima-Farran. The ref let Colorado get away with out and out bodychecks. This was particularly bad reffing. Late in the game Issey was being talked to by the ref and Colorado was in an uproar over the slightest contact that caused the Rapid do go down like he had been knifed. I thought Issey contributed despite these obstacles.
Jackson had a letdown game after his supreme effort in Columbus.

I will rest now, drink plenty of fluids and join you when healthy...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A work of football art - Columbus 0 Toronto FC 2

A pic from those who travelled - envy from this end

Within the first minutes of today's televised TFC game it was clear that something special was being delivered by the visitors in grey. This was not a squad hollowed out by the many players missing, but shaped by the skill and determination of those on the field. Toronto took the game to Columbus early and Michael Bradley's first goal for TFC was the result. Even when the Crew started to have more of the play, TFC was never scrambling or dominated.

It was a total team effort. DeRo surprised me with effort, hustle, speed and the willingness to track way back once Toronto had the lead. It looked like the 4-5-1 of my dreams at times.

The central defending pair of Bradley Orr and Nick Hagglund were just as important to keeping a clean sheet as was Julio Cesar. It was as if we were watching an episode of the vet and the rookie. Bloom and Morrow were smart and patient defending the corners and both showed flair down the attacking end too.

Bradley was king of the midfield in the first half, but Kyle Bekker played his best game yet. 

Give credit to Ryan Nelsen and his coaching staff today. The defending awareness that was missing last week against Real Salt Lake was evident all game long. The substitutions were well timed and seemed to lift the confidence of all. Hall joining Bekker in the midfield to give Bradley a rest paid off. Nakajima-Farran in for DeRosario turned out to be brilliant as Issey N-J scored that important second goal.

I felt that Gilberto was not on the same page as his team in the first half. The second half was an improvement. Jackson seems to find Gilberto with the ball from everywhere and Gilberto's best scoring chance came off a nice set-up from Bloom.

I had said out loud in Section 220 that I was willing to be patient with this team and go through some growing pains, but that I put patience aside when TFC meets Columbus and Montreal. Only crushing wins mattered.


Crew v TFC preview - when scoring is scarce, defend, defend and destroy

I am a touch unsettled about the game on television this evening. This season's TFC television watching has been both heaven and hell. Heaven in Seattle and hell in Salt Lake City last Saturday. I keep a small space open for good vibes, but here is the quick list that has me leaning towards concern.
- a handful of injuries (Defoe, Osorio, Henry, Morgan)
- Caldwell suspended (but Jackson back from suspension)
- Columbus has a history of owning TFC
- brave TFC fans are making the trek to the capitol of Ohio
- there is a bleak, cloudy and cold sky today

I am not comfortable with the suggestions that TFC will play a 4-4-2 formation. I believe that your players determine your formation, not the other way around. For all of his determination, I just don't see DeRo as a replacement for Defoe. I think that a 4-5-1 is called for from the present roster. Gilberto as the sole striker and a host of midfielders. Bradley with the combo of Bekker, Hall, Jackson and Rey with Orr, DeRo or Nakajima-Farran off the bench. I think it is too early to do anything but experiment with the midfield. I think that Rey has skills, his touches, twists and turns with the ball at his feet seems to indicate that he is better in traffic than as a pure winger.
I don't fondly recall those 2012 Winter days when our Dutch leader was convinced that a 4-3-3 was the formation no matter what players we had. If I had a dollar for every time Plata had the ball out wide, isolated and swarmed by multiple defenders....
So I am cynical. Let TFC play attacking football at home and destructive football on the road. RSL scoring 3 should be considered an affront to decency. It might be brutal to be calling for a bunker effort so early in the season, but a point gained away to the Crew would make my Saturday night.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

No fight, all fizzle on a Utah Saturday night - RSL 3 TFC o

I am rarely a fan of nostalgia. When it comes to TFC surrendering in a road game, this is the trip down memory lane one hates to take. This is the road show that we fans have had to tolerate for far too long. TFC in Utah last night was pretty much the team in progress that was on display in the preseason games. Disjointed and ugly.

Some concerns.

Gilberto makes too much money, has his face on too many posters for him to turn out to be a sulking prima donna with a delicacy that invites pain. He runs a terrible risk of having Toronto fans take a strong dislike to this attitude and playing style.
When Defoe left the game in the second half, it should have been Gilberto time. Instead he was easily marked and muscled out of the game. Perhaps there is a fitness level still to be obtained and perhaps there was an injury inflicted upon him, but suck it up. Gilberto looked like a boy who wanted ref Bart Toledo to protect him and make him feel better. He needs become more aware of MLS history and the hostility we have come to expect from some MLS refs when they are in full Toledo mode.

Somebody had better hire a more muscular translator too. The Gilberto word for the day is "urgency". You are taking up a designated player spot and an international spot. Stop acting as if you have another ten games to score your first goal, try ten minutes.
After last night's game, if I were in Coach Nelsen's shoes, I would be benching Gilberto for Columbus.  I would play 4-5-1,  giving Bekker and Osorio a chance to work with Bradley in the heart of the pitch and have Jackson and Rey on the wings. 
Jeremy Hall looked lost in Utah. Neither firm in the tackle nor contributing on the ball.
The 2014 version of DeRo is appearing to be a case of less will be enough. He does not seem to have the dominance he once had.

It was hard to give a full evalution of newest signing Nakajima-Farran. He seemed to make a small contribution, but he was on the field when RSL had taken their foot off the gas.

Columbus on the road is the next game. I am hoping for a reversal of last night's fight vs fizzle balance.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Giving us a victory where collapses used to be standard fare TFC 1 - DC United 0

Home game #1 in this "bloody big deal season" of 2014. It was a pleasure to walk into the stadium and see the pitch a healthy shade of green. The winter has dragged and dragged and the darkest season needs a good kick from our football team to start the motion towards spring. It was mentioned somewhere that the heaters have been on at the stadium for the past month. From the warm up you could tell that conditions underfoot were shaky. The grass seemed mushy, bumpy areas were abundant and it was a tough adjustment for both sides.

Also both sides have had huge off season changes of rosters, so it was not as if the field was throwing off finely tuned machines. TFC had the better of the first half, but seemed to grab their chances out of fast breaks rather than slow build-up. DC United seemed to be in a bad temper. Quick to give the ref grief over everything, they also were bickering amongst themselves.

The goal was both a great effort by Gilberto and a reminder that TFC 2014 has a multitude of talent. After Gilberto had two attempts on net, the defender must have thought he had cleared the danger. However he just fed Defoe who buried it instantly.

Overall the team looked solid. Cesar was steady but never overworked. A fave moment was in the first half when Doniel Henry misjudged a cross and headed it out for a corner. Cesar was not happy and let Henry know it. It revealed an attention to detail and a passion from our Brazilian keeper. A well informed fan reminded me later that the Toronto game was being broadcast in Brazil today.

The back four were strong. I never saw Morrow out of place, Bloom is a worker and the Caldwell/Henry partnership continues to grow.

I would describe the midfield as a mixed bag. Osorio was less connected with Bradley than the week before. Rey was dribbling the ball down the middle of the pitch too often in the first half. He seemed more a winger in the second half, although I can't quite recall any decent crosses from him. Jackson has potential, but seems more selfish than needed. It is nice to have an ego, but he has to be willing to draw and beat defenders and deliver to the big guns on the team. Bradley looked strong. The boggy pitch did not help anyone's passing and Bradley might have been a bit shy on tackling in the mess too.

Defoe and Gilberto played like the strangers that they are. You could see progress as the game wore on and the goal was their baby.  DeRo came on as a sub for Gilberto and he had one break, but other than that looked like he was struggling a little.

Next weekend the schedule brings us a tough game in Utah. Until then.
Graciously given, gratefully received

National Soccer Stadium vs the Double Blue

My opinion about transforming our stadium, the National Soccer Stadium into a two sport stadium is irrational and negative. If it is inevitable, that does not make it any better a decision.

I am convinced that even if Tim Leiweke has the perfect plan, one that preserves 100 aspects of the soccer experience at the stadium and adds another 100 improvements, even if he negotiates with we diehard TFC fans in good faith and ensures that his perfect plan becomes perfect reality, in the end the door is being opened to disaster simply because disaster and decline wear a uniform in this town. The Double Blue.

I have been trying to craft a heart warming story about my life as an Argo fan (1957 to 1992) to
prepare for the stadium change meeting today.
I have always said that the first Argo game I can recall from youth was when the Calgary Stampeders came to town and beat us 55-0. It was love at first sight. I think I was ready to suffer as a TFC fan because my youth was dedicated to the Argos.
I was an Argo fan because of my Dad. My father emigrated to Toronto in 1952. It is in the family dna to support ONE team with all of your heart. Dad was born and raised in wartime England. His soccer roots would reappear every four years when the World Cup was on.  Dad's one team became the Toronto Argos. He bled double blue. He died in 1992. I miss him greatly, yet I am happy that he has been spared watching his Argos fade.

Everything that could be done to squander and downgrade Canadian football in Toronto has been done.
Rotating cheap skate owners

Generations raised by American TV and therefore adopting the NFL as their football league

Decades as second fiddle in a crappy stadium for football

University football crowds in this city  shrunk down to parents and the lost.

It has been sad.

So put your stadium plan aside. The Double Blue will find a way to shrink and lose colour in the wash. The Boatmen moving back to a place by the lake will only make it easier for them to sink.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Seattle sees Red, we see Reds like never before - Sounders 1 TFC 2

We could get used to this...

Ok, I take it back. My preview blog post was a case of shading my optimism with the bitter reality of memory. Memories built around a team that has always started their season on the road and has never begun with a victory. Memories of always struggling against Seattle. Yes, memories of Torsten Frings going down injured in Seattle and the optimistic start to 2012 sputtering into disaster after disaster.

Bad things have happened to TFC in Seattle, but yesterday proved that good things can happen too. Great things, those jump out of your seat cheering sort of things. We had friends over, from those barely aware of the sport/team, those who have a deep love for the game and have long supported greater teams than TFC and those who have suffered through TFC love as much as we have. I dare say that everyone left happy and optimistic about TFC 2014, a new state of mind.

So Toronto FC began season 2014 with a win on the road in Seattle. They were magnificent at times, shaky a few other times, but overall the impression was one of establishing connections and room for more growth than usual. I stated my fear before the game that we were about to watch a shiny new coat of paint on a rusty car. The contributions of Osorio, Henry and even minutes at the end from Morgan had me thinking that perhaps the structure under the paint had merit.

Y'know by now that Jermain Defoe scored both goals. You don't need me to tell you he is a lightning fast finisher, the sort of player our team has been without for too, too long. If this is what he can produce in his first week, his first game in red, surrounded by guys he probably does not yet know the names of, wow.

If Defoe created the highlights, Michael Bradley was the minute after minute creator and destroyer. Solid enough on the ball, the pinnacle was his swift, merciless tackling. He was everywhere in the first half. For the first time as a Toronto fan I would actually chuckle when we lost the ball in the midfield. Losing possession used to be the gateway to confusion and fear (and then picking the ball out of the back our net). There is such a Bradley confidence, he wins the ball back with swift tackling and a domination of territory. It looked like a huge territory on tv. I just can't wait to see him on home ground next Saturday.

Julio Cesar was strong. The goal against was on a counter attack and too many players down our left side were adrift. It was not Justin Morrow's finest moment.

I am not sure that Jackson and Rey are TFC's pure wingers that the formation seems to require. I think that DeRo takes on central runs that mess up the new guys. Jackson had a rough first touch that I am willing to blame on the cold turf. Rey seemed to slow down in the box and Seattle would have a wall of defenders come at him. Rey having no support in behind him or out on the flank made him look indecisive. I think that a healthy Gilberto should be encouraged to flank his midfielders, given their tendency to move inside.
So now the countdown to the first game in Toronto begins.

Step 1. Look at weather forecasts and shake your head at schedule maker.

Step 2. Look forward to seeing friends and familiar faces that get banished from your life by winter.

Step 3. Smile

See you Saturday.