Monday, October 16, 2017

Win Ugly TFC 1 Montreal 0

Small (but sweet) mission down, BIG mission ahead
The morning after the last home game of the 2017 season, I (a fan, a blogger, a shrinking old man) must take the time to accentuate the positive.
Toronto FC 2017 hoisted the Supporter's Shield on home field yesterday. They finished their home schedule with a record of 13 wins - 1 loss and 3 ties. That was a powerful performance.

Onto some random observations, in order to stay positive. I will get back to the game in a bit.
I am a huge fan of the 5 pm weekend start time. I could vote for a 4 pm start time too, but with yesterday's weather that would have meant a huge downpour would have hit the start of the game. So 5 pm wins. The best part of the 5 start time is that post game you can meet with friends and family for a rollicking dinner. It makes a good day, a great one.

I love what tuque day (sponsored by KIA) has become. It used to be a wonderful parting gift, a harbinger of the snowy season approaching and the time you were about to spend away from TFC. Now (fingers crossed and touching wood) it is a gateway to playoffs, a reminder that the games ahead will be chilly. The fact that TFC ended their home schedule with TWO hat give aways means everything to the fashion challenged and man I know I'm one.

Back to the game at hand (and sorry I can't stay positive for much longer)

Just what does Alex Bono have to do to be named "Man of the Match"? Score a goal? Sure, Jozy Altidore buried his chance and was the game winner, but most of the night it was Bono (and his goal posts) keeping Montreal from filling the net. Maybe Altidore needs the confidence boost after the Trinidad experience (the US Men's National Team was eliminated from World Cup 2018 participation by a loss in Trinidad), but Bono was the man according to an unscientific random sample of section 220.
Two weeks apart, due to the international break, and Toronto FC looked far too clunky, disconnected and disjointed versus the Montrealers. Sure, credit given for victory when only records and home field pride were at stake. Speaking of home field, sorry but the stadium share with those bloody afterthought Argos remains an issue. That flood of rain just before game time might have been too much for the pitch.

I will always hate the Argo intrusion into the National Soccer Stadium.

Victor Vazquez should be taking all TFC penalties during the playoffs. On a scale of difficulty, hitting two shots off the same post is up there.

Timing and cohesion and playing time are important. Yet, I would still prefer to play only the B squad for the final season game in Atlanta next weekend. Call it fatigue recognition, injury prevention or just giving Atlanta no recent awareness of the form of our starting 11. I say play Irwin in net, defenders Hagglund, Hernandez and somebody else, midfield should be Edwards, Endoh, Osorio, Cooper and Cheyrou, with Ricketts and Hamilton up front. Result far less important than rest. The beauty of the two leg playoff format is that TFC can chase cohesion in the away game and then have the home game to enhance it.

Season 2017 = no worries, MLS Cup playoffs 2017 = all worries. May we worry all the way to December. Still cheering...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Toronto FC Supporters' Shield winners 2017 TFC 4 NYRB 2

Bucket hat designed for September sunsets
A crisp September Saturday night, a huge victory in Toronto to clinch the Supporters' Shield and the recent two game losing streak is easier to forget, if not forgive. The joy of accomplishment banishes the nagging thoughts that this could have been nailed down with points from the Montreal game or the road struggle in New England. Better delayed than never.

Toronto FC looked a level or two better than New York Red Bulls all night long. Still the game had many roller coaster elements. Early going was TFC asserting themselves and taking a two goal lead. Then NYRB had their answering goal and the half arrived with questions.
When NYRB scored their second goal on a penalty kick to tie the game in the second half, I had to dampen down those traditional doubts and worries. Were TFC going to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Are mistakes by the lake just part of the atmosphere in that part of the city?

Full marks to Toronto FC for roaring back in those final fifteen minutes. It did seem that the ref had given the Red Bulls a signal that no yellow cards were going to be shown and they had freedom to play a crunching game. TFC players were forever moving the ball quickly to avoid that crunch. It hurt the flow, but did not 

Vazquez scored from the penalty spot after Altidore was grabbed. Altidore broke later into the box and crossed the ball to a sliding Justin Morrow to earn his hat trick.

And to think that this entire performance was without Seba Giovinco.

When the announcement rang out, Toronto FC are the Supporters' Shield winners for 2017, I had a misty moment. All those lost seasons, all those woeful teams without direction, hope or leadership popped up in the memory cells. It felt sweet to be witness to these better days, but pride in sticking it out through the lean and leaner still years is woven into the cheers of today.

Now onto the Cup.

by the Lake observations
- One of the few pleasures of the home game mess against Montreal in September was discovering a post game radio hosted by Gareth Wheeler and Terry Dunfield on TSN 1050. Very sorely missed last night. 
- When the bench players came out to warm up it was great to see Nick Hagglund and Benoit Cheyrou greeted with warm applause. Both have arrived back from injury, hopefully healed, at just the right time for the season close and playoffs. Cheyrou got into the game late.  His hard nosed tackling and his silky ball skills are 
- I was thinking that last night's TFC bench might have been the most talented ever. Keeper Clint Irwin,  young Canadians Raheem Edwards and Jordan Hamilton, Steven Beitashour, Cheyrou, Hagglund and Jonathan Osorio. Youth, veterans, Canadians, but talent everywhere.
- As much as I felt that NYRB tactics were too far on the rough and tumble side, I am still cheering for them to go out and beat Vancouver next weekend. That would put them into the playoffs, 7 points clear of Montreal with two games to play. It would put Montreal in the position of playing in Toronto with only pride and rivalry on the line on October 15th (which is still a dangerous combination). Something tells me that the October 15th game will be needed for Seba Giovinco to work with a starting squad. 
The final weekend of the season game in Atlanta turns into what I have dreamed about for months, a chance to protect stars from injury and give the subs a chance to play. Last night sealed the Supporters' Shield and first place in the Eastern Conference. What a luxury to go south to Atlanta with nothing on the line.

Keep smiling.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Grrr blah, anger splutter NE Rev 2 TFC 1

Selfie with friends

TFC lose to New England and I am steaming (like seafood in a big pot being prepared for chowder).
Losing to Montreal in Toronto the other night was tough.
Now following that with a loss to New England might even be tougher.
But don't depend on me to have detached analysis on the matter.

Two losses in a row for TFC now, first time in 2017. Late September is not the time for a pre-playoff season stumble. 

I detest the New England Revs. Perhaps I don't require reasons, but will fling about a few. Their "good friend of Trump" owner, Kraft. A multi-billionaire who pinches pennies when it comes to his soccer team. Everyone hates the  cruddy playing surface in Foxboro. Nobody is a fan of the way the stadium screams "soccer is less important than NFL" with that mishmash of lines all over the field.  I used to count Jay Heaps as another reason to be negative about the team, but they fired him as coach just the other day.

So I will search for positives and only think about TFC.

Benoit Cheyrou should be healthy enough to return soon. TFC need his steel, I felt that Raheem Edwards and Marky Delgado were getting bodied. Vazquez stood up for himself and I was proud that he earned a yellow card for comments to the ref. 

TFC did not allow 5 goals.

The Bradley diagonal pass and the Hasler finish on TFC's goal was a quality offensive play. It needed many more like it all night.

The game is over, two home games left and then the possibly meaningless road game in Atlanta to close the season.

Still boiling...

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Schooled (or the no shot blues) TFC 3 Montreal 5

Missing page from TFC practice plans
Stunk and stung.

Stung because TFC proved to be a team that you do not bet $5 on at half time even though they had just scored a "momentum changing goal" going into the break.
Double stung because it was Montreal. Sure you could say that Toronto was overdue for a correction. You could say it was hardly a terrible situation to be walking away from the stadium on September 20th and grasp that you had just witnessed TFC's first home loss of the 2017 season. You could say it was a step too far to sit out Victor Vazquez after he showed in LA that he can run the show without Altidore and Giovinco. Who ran the show without Vazquez? TFC fans knew that Montreal was a team under pressure. Montreal is always to be feared.

Stunk? Every time has tendencies and put pressure on those tendencies and you can extend them into frailties.  Here is what we saw that left the nostrils uncomfortable.

TFC does not handle adversity well. When the other team is on their back heels TFC can continue to play their careful wide passing style and wait for an opportunity to extend the lead. When TFC are on their back heels, this pass, pass, pass frenzy is a defenders' delight.
To my little mind, TFC's greatest fault is a lack of shooters. Seba Giovinco takes shots from everywhere, but he was not in uniform against Montreal. Victor Vazquez and Benoit Cheyrou are the midfielders who can be counted on for a shot or two per game, just to keep the opposing keeper on his toes. Neither were on the field last night.
Marco Donadel's goal for Montreal was both crushing and infuriating because it was the sort of crack from distance that you just knew Toronto would not / could not produce in response. Although Michael Bradley took a shot or two last night, he does not shoot enough. Delgado does not shoot on net enough, neither does Osorio, Cooper might have ONE chance to shoot and found a way to stumble over himself. A game last night needs to turn into a shooting range and TFC either won't do it or can't do it. The Osorio goal late in the first half, was that not a pass that hit a Montreal defender leg and surprised Montreal keeper Bush? My lack of shooting stance is not lessened by the two late goals by Ricketts. Both were headers from crosses, not shots. In fact when Ricketts did have a shot at a hat trick he came up with a feeble one. Don't get me wrong, I was pleased with Ricketts scoring two late. It revealed some comeback spirit and protected the season's goal differential, somewhat.

Ben Spencer? Ben Spencer! The TFC game plan after falling behind by 3 was to put on Ben Spencer? He is TFC's fifth string striker, a project, a maybe. I admit I am not a scout or a coach and he may have gifts aplenty, but I have yet to see them. Jordan Hamilton and Jay Chapman must be steamed this morning. Both were passed over so that TFC could mount a comeback with Ben Spencer.

The schedule ahead does have a gift for TFC fans, Montreal again on October 15th. If I see Cooper and Spencer, even on the bench, I am going to be yelling "Sept. 20th" from the stands like a crazed loon.
Next up is New England at their fancy NFL stadium and their dodgy playing surface. My suspicion is that Zavaletta will have a bounceback game and it will be a defensive tussle. After the implosion against Montreal, we fans will be happy with a dull draw on the road.
Sure I am still kicking, but also still fuming that TFC gave Montreal way too much and made so little demands...

Monday, September 18, 2017

Victor V. toys with L.A. on a Saturday night - L.A. Galaxy 0 TFC 4

If endless summer is what you require, Southern California is the place to be. Toronto FC has enjoyed the soccer summer of all time (Canadian version) and clearly wants to keep that summer success rolling along. They have not lost a game since Canada Day. Saturday night they headed to Los Angeles where September is always included as a summer month. 
However, L.A. has never been the place where Toronto FC go to keep the party rolling. For that matter TFC and keeping parties rolling has rarely gone together anywhere . TFC have only won twice at LA in their existence, so it was hard to tune into the game with high expectations. The decision to leave Altidore and Giovinco back at home seemed to increase that lost cause feeling.

Three factors were involved in the total victory of Toronto 4-0.

#1 Toronto FC are a team on a mission, willing to work and build and improve. Maybe leaving behind Altidore and Giovinco sparked everyone.

#2 LA Galaxy are not the team of yore. Without checking the standings, I think LA has only won twice at home this year. Defending from the Galaxy is sad, not much of a midfield to speak of and an attack that relies on hopeful long shots. To think I once upon a time wanted Sigi Schmid to be given the reins at TFC. Sad.

#3 Somebody forgot to read the chapter of TFC history titled "LA is where TFC go to lose" to Victor Vazquez. He wrote a new chapter instead, provisionally titled "Watch This". He destroyed the pattern of Toronto taking a back seat to LA in any category. If you ever wonder what they mean by soccer I.Q. get yourself to BMO and watch for Vazquez. 
His LA smart contributions included the first goal of the night, where he got permission from the ref to take the free kick quickly, banged the ball off the corner post area while LA were still trying to form a wall and then have an alert Drew Moor pounce on the rebound and head the ball into the net.
Vazquez's goal, TFC's fourth was a matter of Vazquez running onto a drop kick from Alex Bono that had bounced over LA defender Michael Ciani's head. It was comical.

Very little time to bask in the glow of this one. I am late posting and now have less than 48 hours before TFC host Montreal Impact.

Keep cheering and be prepared for battle, Montreal will be tough.

Not Cobi's Galaxy

Monday, September 11, 2017

Thumping San Jose TFC 4 Quakes 0

Toronto FC continues to roll through 2017 with power, style and determination. The Saturday afternoon home game performance had me quickly banishing those TFC fan skills, honed over the never forgotten seasons, of bracing for the negative. It had been two weeks since the win in Montreal and I was imagining that the international break would have disrupted TFC's finesse.

Not a chance. TFC 2017 is a team on cruise control, bordering on total control. Victor Vasquez continues to make things happen, scores a goal, continues to lead the league in assists and looked as dominant without Giovinco and Altidore on the field as he did with them. That might have been misleading towards the end of the game as San Jose seemed to be dreaming of getting back onto the team bus and had lost a player to a video red card. Coach Vanney had also subbed in both Tosaint Ricketts and Armando Cooper, two attacking players who have been gathering dust on the bench in recent weeks. They were keen to show some spark, so Vasquez had willing targets for his creative passes.
It is too easy to overlook the defending effort that is part and parcel of TFC's success. Alex Bono gets a shut out and it is true that he was rarely put under pressure. It seems a MLS truism that high scoring teams have a tendency to be vulnerable to sloppy defending when the game is out of the opponent's reach. TFC has shown a lot of discipline in that area. Their goal difference of 33 is a stat that does not get a lot of attention. Don't get me started on the lack of media attention overall, but the goal difference stat is an incredible one.

This is a team on a mission and the one aspect that I enjoy keeping my eye on is the MLS record for losses in a season. Season 2010 had two teams (FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake) go through a 30 game season with only four losses each. TFC, after 28 games, has three losses. MLS now has a 34 game season, so TFC face 6 more games, 3 home and 3 away. Should they avoid a loss here on in, it would be quite the accomplishment (although my negative fan phobia almost has me almost wanting a loss soon to take the pressure off). 

So a playoff spot is clinched. TFC have the inside track for both first round bye AND Supporter's Shield. Their position is so strong that they have the luxury of a bad night or two in the remaining schedule, but truly no indication that a detour awaits. Ok, I never like seeing TFC play in New England ever, but that is more due to the lack of soccer spectacle in an NFL environment than anything else. Oh and those damn muskets.

But worrying about New England is getting ahead of the schedule. There is LA away next weekend and then Montreal at home in the midweek first.

Keep the ball rolling....

Osorio scores...

Monday, August 28, 2017

Hottest TFC summer closes with sizzle - Montreal 1 TFC 3

It's a long season. First games are played in the cold of March and the MLS Cup Final has had the date set recently as December 9th.
The TFC we have struggled with over the years often have had trouble over the hot summer months. Sure, they had lousy springs and crummy falls, but it always seemed crueler to have rough results when the sun was shining and all seemed right with the weather.

This season has been the summer we always dreamed of. Probably even greater than most of our dreams when you consider how low the bar has been set.

June, July and August 2017 has had TFC hammer out a record of 8 wins, 3 ties and only two losses in MLS play (plus June had a tie and a win in the Canadian Championship vs Montreal). Talk about your summer of love.

So Sunday afternoon TFC went to Montreal. They played against the team that would most like to derail Toronto FC's super season and get into playoff position themselves. Giovinco scored twice, Jozy Altidore scored one and TFC shut them down. It was enough of a canny road victory that I hesitate to use the word "dominating". TFC did what they had to do, showed quality when needed and defended well.

The moment Giovinco sealed the win in Montreal
I have to share a few quibbles about the broadcast on TSN.
1. Luke Wileman seems to have caught the Gerry Dobson broadcast vibe, forever talking about the implications of things instead of describing the moment. All fans know that good things happen when you win and bad things transpire when you lose. Stop talking about what winning will mean to point totals or records being broken.  We are enjoying the season of all time, if somebody has tuned in and is oblivious to TFC's great year, they deserve to stay in the dark.  PLUS Don't talk about Alex Bono's clean sheet when minutes remain in the game.

2. What was the deal on the camera completely missing the Altidore goal ?

3. The insanity of TSN using both graphics and having Wileman talk about the coverage of curling to follow the Montreal - TFC game. Curling in August? Curling In AUGUST! My heavens, maybe neither the nation nor the sports television channels of this nation deserve a team like TFC.