Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dusty victory, a team too subtle? TFC 2 DC United 0

Yes, I am difficult to please.
Yes, TFC scored two second half goals and secured another home victory. They stay top of the Eastern Conference with 32 points (16 games played - 9 W 2 L 5 T) but only one point ahead of surprising Schweinsteigered Chicago.

Still I was a little haunted by TFC being shut out by New England on the road a few weeks ago. Altidore and Bradley missed that one for USA duty. TFC had scoring chances by the bucket in the first half and at the very least should not have been held scoreless in that game.
So this weeks old haunting combined with a scoreless first half last night had me worried. Here was TFC back at home, Altidore and Bradley back on the field, and a touch of rust and dust was to be expected. This starting 11 had not been on the field together for a while.
When the subtle touches, the close passes, the sweeping long passes to move the point of attack and stretch the defending team are moving with a beautiful flow, TFC are a sight to behold. Yet sometimes it feels as if they are one measure short of a goal of the week candidate and that only a work of art will do. Have we fans been spoiled? The five goal demolishment of Columbus setting too high a standard?

TFC were clearly the better team tonight, but DC United 2017 have been struggling. They are currently last in the Eastern standings. It might have been a classic case of playing down to weaker opponents or it might have been that dust and rust from not playing together. I worry that is more a matter of lesser teams defending with bodies in the box and TFC letting their tendency for finesse get the better of them. For all my love of the finesse game, sometimes you have to score ugly.
In the coming summer transfer window, would I trade Armando Cooper, the finesse player deepest on the midfield depth chart and lately not even gathering dust on the bench, for a hulking brute forward? Certainly. Are you reading Mr. Bezbatchenko?

The goals from Altidore and Hamilton, both set-up by Giovinco, were moments of skill and daring. Yet it was also concerning that Altidore, Giovinco and Bradley all picked up yellow cards last night. I was not comfortable with the ref last night and once again worry about our finesse team being roughed up and the ref only seeing the response. Michael Bradley now misses the New England rematch due to card accumulation.
Special mentions - Chris Mavinga was worth the price of admission last night. His bold defending, all timing and laser like feet, was a thrill to watch. He had a better game than Victor Vazquez, I felt. Since they are both the dazzling newcomers to TFC this year, I tend to compare them. Vazquez might only be guilty of establishing a supreme standard with his performance against Columbus. Michael Bradley was strong defending and positioning, but his long passing was falling back into the spraying wildly around the field category. I wore my USA shirt in honour of his superb goal against Mexico last week. Good things happen when you retain the threat of shooting the ball from surprising locations. That is surprising locations on the field of play, not surprising locations in the nation of Mexico.

I will miss the New England game due to being away in, of all places, New England next weekend. It's not soccer related. I am a long time dedicated fan of the band Wilco. Although they are from the Chicago area, they hold a music festival every two years in a small Massachusetts town named North Adams (at an incredible site- the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art or MASS MoCA). The festival is called Solid Sound , I have not missed one yet and 2017 is no exception. So I am not sure if I will blog or even be able to follow the game. Maybe I will beg a guest blogger to fill something in for me. Trust me, I want TFC to destroy New England. With their Trump friend owner and their hollow NFL ambiance home field, I put them above Columbus recently on my despised rival list.

Until the next time, All for One.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Muskets amok NE Revs 3 TFC 0

I dislike the New England Revolution.
They have a Trump loving owner.
They play in a stadium designed for NFL football on a surface designed for NFL football.
They have a goal scoring ritual that has a half dozen men dressed as American Revolutionary War chaps fire muskets after the home team scores a goal. I can't quite put my finger on why I find that deeply irksome, but I do. Maybe over glorification of military?
Oh and their head coach, Jay Heaps, often looks like a maniac and I remember him as a stormy player too...

So having NE Revs defeat TFC irks me deeply.
They caught TFC on an off performance night and defeated them 3-0.
Toronto FC had too many goal scoring opportunities elude them in the first half.
A clear header from Vazquez, a goal post hit by Morrow, a screaming shot from Cooper off the crossbar and Edwards not running onto a cross from Vazquez all spring to mind.
Seba Giovinco was Mr. Invisible

I am too deeply irked to write much more. Heavens, even Cheyrou looked slow and wayward in his passing tonight!

TFC do not play next weekend. They next play at home on June 17th. That should give them (and me) some time to get this one out the system.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Capital punishment TFC 4 Ottawa Fury 0

Blue skies, nothing but blue skies -BMO on the brink of June
TFC played the second leg, the home game versus the Ottawa Fury in the Canadian semis last night and had little problem defeating them in a fairly lopsided game. The first half was mostly one of Ottawa frustrating and TFC looking frustrated. Then late in the half Endoh put one in off of a Fury defender (after Jordan Hamilton made a pinpoint cross from a "trapped out on the wing with a defender on his back" spot) and then seconds later it was Vazquez putting in a cross perfectly to Endoh's head and TFC had two goals. After that the Fury had to put all of their efforts into keeping tabs on TFC and the minute prospect of an Ottawa goal just faded throughout the second half.

It was a pleasure watching Vazquez and Cheyrou use the midfield as their canvas. They both find space to operate. They move into positions prior to getting the ball, they welcome pressure once they have the ball and they find ways, subtle and surprising, to move from the pressure and keep their dribbling and passing options open. They seldom seem to hold the ball too long, due to their ability to read the landscape around them.  The Fury had no equivalent. Marky Delgado scored as he went unmarked down the middle of the field. Seba Giovinco scored and you felt that he had spent his second half playing time getting back into shape and taking target practice.

The next MLS season game is this weekend against New England. The Revs have not had a strong start to the season and it is possible that TFC could go into this contest with a case of overconfidence. Thumping Ottawa just might contribute to the attitude problem. Bradley and Altidore have gone off for USMNT duty and will not be playing for TFC this weekend, same as last night. Giovinco might be rested to keep him off the artificial surface and Coach Vanney has done the same with Vazquez this season. No word on the leg injury to Tosaint Ricketts that had him come out of the game late in the first half last night. After the New England game Saturday TFC have a break in the schedule and do not play again until June 17th. The starting line-up for TFC will be interesting.
Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Toronto in superb form, slew Crew TFC 5 Columbus Crew 0

Anyone who went to the stadium tonight expecting that level of excellence or that many goals has more confidence and insight than I could ever imagine. The game was off to a great start within the first 10 minutes with the Vazquez pass to Ricketts, the foul in the box and the Vazquez goal on the ensuing p.k. Yet feeling comfortable with an early lead is difficult against Columbus. I would not consider myself a fan of Federico Higuaín, but I respect his skill and heaven knows he has destroyed TFC many a time. So I watched him like a hawk. As long as he was on the field I worried. On a night scoring 5 goals it is easy to forget the effort and skill on the defensive side. 

Toronto FC put on a sweet performance tonight at BMO. Long before the goals started TFC had moments of footy poetry in motion out there. It seems that Captain Michael Bradley responds so well to the addition of Victor Vazquez to the midfield. They often moved about as a pair of midfield maestros benefitting from some excellent contributions from Chris Mavinga and Justin Morrow. It's a bit funny that both of Vazquez's goals were scored from dead ball situations, because he was all thoughtful motion and pinpoint passing tonight. I recall a moment in the second half when he was boxed in out on the left and he made a bad pass to the middle of the pitch that was pounced on by Columbus. It stuck out in my memory largely because it was a rare lapse. 

I think that at 3-0 Columbus threw in the towel and subbed off Higuaín. TFC's Delgado was given a red card after a collision with a Crew player. It happened so fast and I admit that because I had been following the path of the ball and first saw Delgado reaching for it, my first instinct was that Delgado had touched the ball and that the Crew player came in late. I have yet to see a replay, but I must be wrong on the sequence. Marky Delgado deserves credit for developing his game. He can still be a day late and a dollar short when the ball is at his feet... but he is covering a lot of ground and positioning himself well when defending. With Vazquez and Bradley running the show down the middle and Morrow and Beitashour on the flanks, Delgado is not going to shine as a star. He needs to shoot from distance more often, but that is a criticism I throw at all TFC midfielders (except Vazquez, he takes at least one long crack at net per game by my primitive stat memory).

It was such a dominant performance by TFC tonight that I felt just a tiny bit sorry for the Crew. A very rare feeling in all my years following the MLS. Usually I would only enjoy thumping Montreal more than downing the Crew.

Coming into tonight's game Columbus had a record of 6 wins, 6 losses and a tie. Not overpowering, but respectable for 5th place in the Eastern MLS standings. They might have figured, considering that they came to Toronto with Giovinco out due to injury and Altidore suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
Instead they encountered an onslaught. I would be sensitive to TFC running up the score with goals 4 and 5 if not for the fact that it was Osorio (beautifully set up by Hamilton) and Hamilton (beautifully set up by Edwards) that were doing the scoring. Both came off the bench and both are down the depth chart and fighting for playing time.

A rare night. I am just not used to walking away from the stadium thinking " well that was a work of art". A good feeling, that.

Just another masterpiece...

Friday, May 19, 2017

Road strength NYRB 1 TFC 1

The Granite and Redbrick FC (just me, trying to spruce up the Grey and the Red)  continued to look a rising force in New Jersey tonight. A point on the road is often the target for a game such as this and the cagey veterans of TFC fandom tuned in hoping for just that.

The Red Bull Arena has rarely been a place for TFC to flourish. TFC with an all time great winning streak has one looking for a bubble burster of a game. NYRB have a great home record and they were stung

Without Seba Giovinco and Nick Hagglund due to injuries and Drew Moor playing 60 minutes in his comeback from injury game, TFC managed to raise our expectations all night long.

- came back from being one goal down at the half  with Cheyrou's goal
- had a penalty called in their favour at NYRB Arena (too bad Jozy hit a soft riser too close to the        keeper and had it saved).
- had a near winner as Tosaint Ricketts put one off the crossbar
- and had Ricketts put one in the net only to have it called back on a offside / interfering with play call on Raheem Edwards.

Rare in TFC history to have a draw in NYRB territory feel so much like two points squandered rather than the tie point gained.
The TFC record now stands at 7 wins 1 loss and 5 ties, still #1 in the East although Orlando is only 6 points back with two less games played.

Next game is a Canadian Championship game in Ottawa against the Fury. You can expect to see plenty of regulars rested and Hamilton, Chapman and Osorio be amongst those to give TFC a Canadian shape.
Then next Friday it is a home game versus the Columbus Crew with the Trillium Cup on the line. I like our chances...

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Ragged power TFC 3 Minnesota 2

A fully entertaining afternoon down by the lake today. Toronto FC looked confident and cohesive in the early part of the game, ragged for a few scattered patches in the second half and then back to full power mode to finish Minnesota off in the end . When Giovinco scored the first goal it was possible to dream of a runaway "run up the score" victory. Clearly that did not happen, just not sure if it was a matter of Minnesota making a game of it or TFC too often letting them back up when they seemed down at last.

I give credit to Minnesota for a few things. They have improved defensively somewhat from their woeful start to the season. They have some quality players and gave a solid effort. They also have the vaguest name lettering I have ever seen (or actually not seen) on a MLS shirt. Soft grey letters on a white background. As a western conference team we would not see them in Toronto again in 2017 (unless TFC hosted them in the Cup). Just be warned and make sure you buy a program when they play in your town.

TFC rode their offensive side to victory. The effort from Jozy Altidore to keep possession down the left and send in the perfect cross for Tosaint Ricketts to head the winning goal from was superb. TFC clearly sacrificed their defensive side in resting Beitashour and Morrow. Those two sitting out might explain how Minnesota were able to twice crawl back into the game. Hopefully a healthy Drew Moor is close to returning, not every opponent will yield three goals in a game no matter how sparkling the TFC attack is right now.

So it was possible to walk away from the stadium in an upbeat mood. Surprising when you consider that Giovinco and Hagglund left the game due to injuries (and is it possible Alex Bono ended the game injured too?). TFC have never, ever won 6 in a row before.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Woke up just in time Crew 1 TFC 2

Now, that was a scintillating finish. A reward for all those who avoided nodding off when Toronto looked hapless in the second half. Yes, they looked confused and aimless. I also felt that the announcing team of Wileman and Caldwell were throwing in the towel way too early. There were 30 minutes left to play at one point and you felt the audio portion of your broadcast was wrapping up the game as a foregone conclusion.
Just my pet peeve in play by play talk, please describe the action as best you can, try to take me into the moment, into the atmosphere (and therefore spend the money to send announcers to the park, not this from the studio miles away crap). DON'T give me the implications of the action (scoring here will give Jozy Altidore seven goals for the season and he will be tied for the league lead was the jist of Luke Wileman's commentary at that point - he had me yelling at the tv screen before Altidore even made contact). To those who missed the game on television, Altidore's penalty kick was stopped by Crew keeper Steffen. At that point the Columbus Crew were ahead 1-0 as Federico Higuain had scored from the penalty spot (Panenka style) earlier when Zavaletta had fouled a Crew player in the box.

The midfield was not working. It was the return of Vazquez who missed the Seattle trip, a reward start for Jay Chapman, who looked excellent in Seattle, a start for Osorio with Morrow and Beitashour back to their usual wingback spots
It was a victory that Coach Greg Vanney can take a lot of the credit for, but it was not a night that I spent singing his praises. He gets slammed for tinkering too much with his lineup here. He has a deep squad and with the Canadian games coming up (opponent confirmed as the Ottawa Fury) you can see he wants to spread playing time around. Yet at the same time he is not making the best moves in terms of players who know each other and play well together. Jay Chapman did not look as good against Columbus as he did on the weekend, but playing him with Victor Vazquez was a huge factor. Is it not possible that Chapman was playing the Vazquez role in his absence against the Sounders?

In the end Vanney more than dug the team out of the hole he might have created. Mavinga was playing well, but he was subbed still in the first half. Morrow could drop back into Mavinga's spot at left back and Tosaint Ricketts came in the game to add fire power. Although Ricketts was on the field for all those meandering minutes, he scored the two goals and saved the night. Vanney's second half changes, Cheyrou and Edwards in, Osorio and Chapman out, were superb. Putting in Cheyrou was solid, it is not just what Benoit Cheyrou does but also the way that his presence on the field frees up Michael Bradley to get forward. Raheem Edwards brought speed and daring and excellent crosses. He and Vazquez had the assists in both goals. Vazquez finding Edwards on the right wing, who then chipped it into the path of Rickett's head for the first Toronto goal. I have gone on and on about the quality of Victor Vazquez and now heap on praise to Raheem Edwards. The quality of that chip/cross on the first goal is not often seen in TFC land. Then the toe tip of Vazquez on the cross from Edwards later on the left was the gift that Ricketts put the finish too.

Almost forgot to mention 5 straight victories, a TFC record. I must admit that has me worried about the Saturday home game. Playing expansion team Minnesota here in Toronto just might have TFC taking it all for granted. Stay hungry and stay tuned.

They have me peeking at Supporter's Shield TFC#1