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...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A steady supply of Toronto power after Houston started "lights out" TFC 4 Dynamo 2




A Saturday night game had arrived and I had yet to recover from the prior Saturday. Losing to DC United had not been a pretty sight. The failure to connect offensively was worrying and the fear that the team was going to be flat-footed and unplanned throughout the critical month of July was still gnawing at me.

This night began with Davis of Houston twice wide open on the TFC right side and twice scoring. I think both Oduro and Bloom were responsible for that side of the field, but Davis' positioning in behind the first wave of attack seemed to indicate that Oduro had neglected to track back properly. I had felt that Oduro was a significant non-contributor the week before and this score was not going to change my mind on this.

It may be World Cup hangover in the perception of the fan, but having TFC give up two goals that reminded me of Brazil vs Germany in the semi-finals was not a comfy feeling. It was not Nelsen doing a big Phil impersonation or Luke Moore playing like Fred. More of a feeling that Houston had done their homework and had exploited a flaw in TFC's formation and were going to go to town on this.

The Toronto climb back was steady, which is not the word to describe the Dynamo keeper. Keeper Tally Hall dropped the ball to enable Osorio's goal, Oduro shot and then scored due to the keeper's rebound and the teams reached the halftime tied.

I understand that it takes a long time to "click" with your peers and it is very early moments to critique the Warner - Osorio midfield, but it shows more industry than fashion. Jermaine Defoe broke down the defending horde and scored two goals to put the game away.

All this was done without Michael Bradley even on the bench. This gives me hope for the return match in hot as blazes Houston on July 19th.

And now Vancouver...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Dreaming and drooling over next time Chicago Fire 1 TFC 1





Watching Toronto FC on television Wednesday night involved multiple stages of mental adjustment for the football saturated.
The first hurdle was grasping that this was not a World Cup game, an everything on the line, billions watching sort of contest. It was just a MLS regular season game played on a very rainy night in Illinois.

The second hurdle was figuring out the uniforms. I am a huge fan of the TFC third uniform this year, the onyx. However it takes awhile to understand that the flash of red uniform is Chicago, not Toronto. It was also confusing that the Fire were also looking just a little like the USA in colour scheme, although that could be just my Brasil 2014 brain going into overdrive.

Before I have had a chance to fully tuned into the game, Luke Moore is red carded for an elbow to the head of Fire midfielder Chris Ritter. Replays indicated that Moore was looking at the ball as he jumped and that Ritter came from behind and jumped late.

I am all for protecting the heads of players. Sure, when we wear our TFC fan hats, that elbow to the head of Ritter could have been a yellow card. I think that the ref was both listening to the chatter of Fire players and observing the extent of Ritter's injury before making his decision. I am comfortable with a ref who hesitates because he is getting information from the other refs, but player complaints should be background noise. The ref should be smart enough to know that not every injury is due to a foul, sometimes accidents happen

But once you establish that protection level, Mr Dodgy Ref, you can't be giving yellows for Amerikwa's kick to Caldwell's head and the late game elbow to the back of the head of Oduro. It just seemed that either ref scon was calling an unbalanced game or he was spending the rest of the night compensating for his rash red.

TFC looked adequate with 11 men, then functional with 10. A point on the road should always be valued, but TFC do not look cohesive. July needs to be spectacular. I can see reserving judgement on the midfield as Warner, Jackson and notably Oduro have not had a chance to play with Bradley. Solving and settling the midfield then creates more for the strikers, Defoe in particular.

TFC have two more MLS season games with Chicago. Here in Toronto on August 23 and back in Chicago on September 13. There is the possibility that Chicago will improve their team with a summer signing or two. The internet chatter surrounding bringing USMNT player Jermaine Jones to the MLS mentioned Chicago as a destination (not sure of chatter validity). Even with another player, the Fire are in trouble. They will not get another ref as friendly as they had last night. Toronto should be marking both of those games on their calendar as opportunities to recover from last night's confusion. See you Saturday at BMO Field.