Sunday, June 21, 2015

Beaten by dirt TFC 0 NYCFC 2

That was not an entertaining evening out. Mistakes by the lake, that old theme, came back to haunt us all and "dam" mistakes were made by Toronto FC all night long. It was frustrating to watch. Perhaps TFC coaches and players alike had prepared for this game by reading their own press clippings. NYCFC came, grabbed, held and conquered. Ugly soccer all night from the visitors. Scored on a penalty and pounced on some sloppy play for their second. Sure, TFC were playing against both a gritty wall of blue AND the ref, but an absolute lack of pounce from the home side had this fan walking away from the game totally annoyed. IF we are better than them, better than that (Perquis and Cheyrou were repeatedly hit in the head) adjustments have to be made.

Toronto FC lost and I put some of the blame on Michael Bradley. He played an ordinary game, his passes were ordinary, his speed was ordinary and his lack of offensive urgency was a gift to New York. Bradley becomes the attacking midfielder with no attack. What works for him in a US shirt hinders him in Toronto red, that is the midfield maestro role. Take your TFC  shots and fill the net. He should have been shredding NYCFC, a MLS expansion team defense. Instead he lays off, does not dominate the midfield and his ordinary passes create zero goal scoring opportunities for others. New York must smile every time Bradley passes the ball to Osorio or Warner. Maybe it is only human after the recent highs of beating both Netherlands and Germany, that a contest against NYCFC would be low on the inspiration chart for Captain Bradley. It is also human as  a fan to feel that some nights Bradley needs either a swat in the head with the chart paper or a seat on the bench. Without Bradley, TFC beat DC United on the road. With Bradley an expansion team waltzed in and beat TFC on the scoreboard and around the ankles.
TFC lost and I put some of the blame on Seba Giovinco. He just gave every MLS team a template for how to put him off of his game and keep him off the scoresheet. Double team and cheap shots were the New York treatment and Giovinco responded with an obvious foul and got a yellow card for his efforts. Giovinco goes down too easily, too often and New York exploited it all night. The second or third time he spent more attention to ref complaining than TFC goal scoring, he needed to be benched. A canny coach could always say he did it to protect his player from ill treatment and injury but behind closed doors insist that scoring goals, not debating bad refs, pays the bills.

Speaking of the coach, TFC lost and I put a lot of the blame on Coach Greg Vanney. It takes more than a lucky shirt to coach. Did TFC adjust in the second half to the NYCFC constant itchy blanket on Giovinco? New York had been getting away with wrestling, holding fouls all game without even the gesture of warnings from the ref and then TFC sub Altidore (trying to get to a ball) is given a yellow card? Sure ref, that is what the game needed, stop those Toronto forwards from manhandling NY defenders to get to the ball. That should have been the final straw. Vanney was seen chewing out the ref around that point, but it had no true impact on the team or on the crowd. If a TFC coach did not go ballistic over the reffing last night, just how bad would it have to get? Vanney did nothing to alter strategy or alter the tone of the match. It seems that Giovinco and Bradley run the team, not Vanney.  Was it a surprise to anyone that subs Findley and Jackson provided no goals, hell, not even a shot at net!

The TFC coach I dream of would have got himself thrown out of the game last night for both the theatrics and the principle. That coach would give the late game midfield spark job to Jay Chapman and save us from the non-play of Jackson. He would be demanding something of Bradley and Giovinco. He would beat expansion teams.
At least we face a midweek game against Montreal, so hopefully we are singing a different tune soon. Right now I fear TFC have no response to a game of grit and grab. Size, muscle and meanness just got put on the top of my TFC player shopping list...
NYCFC at practice

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Giovinco scores and scores DC United 1 TFC 2

Toronto FC grabbed a road victory Saturday night, their fourth of 2015, by defeating DC United in Washington. DC United still leads the Eastern Conference, but the Toronto win moves them into third spot and Toronto have played 4 less games. TFC have been on this cliff before. Promise and potential and games in hand seems to be the way June always arrives for TFC. There are a many signs that this year they turn from the cliff and begin to fly.

Top Ten Reasons that TFC are playoff bound in 2015 (ok, I miss Letterman)

10. The road victory in DC was without Michael Bradley.
9. Seba Giovinco.
8. Coach Vanney had the confidence in his team to go for a road victory - subbing on Jay Chapman and Jozy Altidore in the late minutes of the game.
7. Defensive strengths continue - a summer signing and a return for Caldwell would not hurt, but Morgan, Morrow, Zavaletta and Perquis held DC scoreless for more than half a game (ignoring the offside goal disallowed).
6. Konopka continues to play as #1 keeper, Joe Bendik has recovered from injury, but it is a positive sign to have two quality keepers battling for the #1 job.
5. Canadian content is brewing nicely - Osorio, Morgan and Chapman all contributing.
4. Jozy Altidore is back from injury
3. Seba Giovinco
2. Seba Giovinco
1. Seba Giovinco

Yesterday is/was quite a football day. The Champions League Final between Barcelona and Juventus was an entertaining spectacle. The Canada Women's World Cup opener was a nail biter. The Lady Canucks played tense and tight, clumsy and sloppy, but the penalty kick winner gave us all reason to hope. Then cap the day off with a TFC win in DC - quite a day...

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

#Blatterout resigns, football fans ashamed of deep corruption rejoice

You would not have to read many of my blog posts, sit with me at a game for long or watch me coach my local adult team to see just how much I love this game of football. I love it and have been hurt, as millions of others have been hurt, by the avalanche of FIFA corruption under Sepp Blatter.

Today he resigned.

Overdue, but better late than never.

Going, going, gone

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A hard (goal scoring) rain is going to fall - TFC 3 San Jose 1

Cloudy day, bright performance

It was difficult to walk away from the Saturday TFC game not thinking about rainstorms. The game's time slot began with a storm and  later driving away from BMO you felt seconds away from the next storm front. I may qualify as a hopeless optimist, but just as a storm brewing in the air gives you the sense of forces about to be unleashed, TFC 2015 gives you the feeling that heavy goal scoring victories are about to rain all summer long. This starts with Giovinco and his ability to create scoring opportunities all game long (the game ending with his free kick off the post). Jozy Altidore is still injured and therefore Morrow and Moore scored from in front of the net on set-ups from Giovinco. Creavalle's goal was also assisted by Giovinco, although I give greater credit to Creavalle sending a long range beauty
I think that Michael Bradley should be coached to take a shot on net within the first fifteen minutes of every game. Going cross-sport here - you know how a pass happy point guard in basketball sets up the passing option by taking some early shots? Too many teams are going to be defending against the pass from Bradley to Gio, so Bradley should shoot early to set up the later Gio passes.

TFC's present position in the standings makes a summer storm of goals a tempting treat. 11 games into a 34 game schedule is close enough to a third through for my clumsy math. Peeking at the 2014 final standings Sporting KC grabbed the final (5th) playoff spot with 49 points (14W 13L 7ties). Something tells me that more points will be needed to qualify in 2015 when you figure in the two Eastern expansion teams

If Toronto is aiming higher than squeaking into lower playoff spots (and I hope they are), then the month of June is a huge opportunity. They are 9 points behind DC United and have 3 games in hand. The June schedule has TFC and DC United in a home and home series. This June could launch TFC into uncharted territory.
This has been a blog of positives, so let me scatter a few negatives.
#1 Three goals scored, yet Jozy Altidore is still missed. I read a report quoting Coach Vanney as saying that Altidore is ahead of schedule.
#2 Good games from Osorio, Creavalle and Jackson, but TFC should be shopping still for a winger.
#3 Thin bench concern - TFC had a bench dominated by rookies (Hamilton, Manella, Chapman). Injuries to Warner and Findley have meant a chance for the young generation, but the summer signing window has to bring somebody onto the TFC bench.

Next game @ DC United next Saturday

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Starting with the sounds of supporter silence TFC 1 Portland Timbers 0

top left of picture - the fine folks who travelled from OREGON to be banished at BMO
The south end supporter groups wore black, had banners about the 2016 stadium share with the CFL and made no noise until the Dichio song. I salute them (wore black myself) and understand that although the decision may have been inevitable, that does not make it right and the potential for things to go wrong remains strong. A Toronto soccer fan has no obligation to save the CFL in this market (especially when you can argue that the Toronto baseball fan has done lasting damage and that CFL fans have enjoyed 26 years of self inflicted damage). The Argos have been a sinking boat for decades and if you think that being the afterthought tenant at BMO and the ownership of Larry Tanenbaum (who buys the team for a toonie one day and then the next day talks about NFL in Toronto as inevitable) is going to change the buoyancy of that boat, you are hoping to hard. Sorry to say it, but kill TFC and a soccer in Canada dream dies, kill the Argos and most are going to watch and attend Bills games anyway...

Back to the TFC game. It was a frustrating victory. You felt TFC had the potential for a handful of goals in the game. Some credit has to go to Portland keeper Kwaraesey who made some solid saves to keep his team in the game. It was frustrating, in a twisted way, to see the improvements in just a few weeks. They played in yesterday's game in the manner you had hoped for in the opener against Houston. Benoit Cheyrou played the part of midfield maestro throughout the day. He makes everyone around him better, frees Bradley from having to track back too deep and picked out Giovinco on an incredible long pass in the first half. I was going to describe Giovinco as the high profile star of the day and Cheyrou as the stealth star of the day...but then some online sources had Cheyrou as man of the match...

Vanney move #1 TFC fans moved to the edge of their seats with ten minutes to go - anticipating the TFC defending letdown that would gift Portland a point. One of the reasons that TFC did not give up that expected late goal was Coach Vanney's substitution of Nick Hagglund to play with five defenders in the back. It means that the team sits back and goes into a shell, but it worked. We will take ugly over deflating any day.

Vanney move #2 It seems that the TFC wingers are a rotating squad, Osorio, Warner, Creavalle and Jackson all had some playing time. Warner was subbed at halftime and it must have been injury related because he was a solid presence. Warren Creavalle played well, he was regularly intercepting Portland passes and had a sizzling shot at net.

Idle trade talk MLS has wisely changed their rules so that the trading window aligns with the summer signing window. So TFC can't trade again until July. So I am speculating weeks ahead, but does the solid play of Chris Konopka in net put Joe Bendik in trade jeopardy?

Portland's fans banished?
It used to be that visiting supporters were kept together and made secure in the top north east corner of the stadium. Now that a new section has been built above the old one and the top north east seems to be a mile further up. Why put Portland fans that far up? It actually looked funny at the end of the game when Timber's players were saluting their fans. It looked as if they were clapping for fans above them in the clouds. It think that part of the problem is the pricing of the new eastern upper deck tickets. TFC needs to make it a better bargain. Forget about distance from the field. Fans will soon learn that for most game times you spend the game staring into the setting sun. Nice for tanning, not so nice for viewing.

Final utterings
Where was Osorio going when he blocked Gio's shot that had already passed the Portland keeper? Osorio played a good game, but being in the way of a sure goal ends up being the lowlight of the game. Ashtone Morgan continues to play well. He was given a plaque before the game to honour his new status as TFC player with the most games played.

Next game - the friendly vs Man City

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