Sunday, March 15, 2015

Gantar the ref from Hell, beats TFC by two Columbus goals, "What can you say? He’s just not good enough.”

Clearly playing the ball not the man

Gantar, the ref from hell, botched another TFC game last evening. Late in the first half he red carded Justin Morrow.  Hell, he tried to red card Damien Perquis, which is a clear indication that he is not up to the job.
Yes, I have the luxury of hindsight. I have watched the video multiple times. I chose the above screen shot to underline how hopeless the assistant ref had to be to support Gantar. He is in the top of the picture with nothing between him and Morrow with the ball at his feet. He deserves to be banished along with Gantar.

You can't call a foul on a defender in this situation. He is playing the ball. It is not even a situation of one leg going for the ball and the trailing leg fouling the attacker, he had BOTH legs ahead of the attacker. Even if the back of Morrow is being kicked by the attacker, Morrow has position. He has precedence. Any contact in this spot is a foul to the attacker. If he (Ethan Finley) makes contact with the back of the defender's legs WHO IS PLAYING THE BALL and then goes to ground HE GETS BOOKED FOR SIMULATION. It is not even a 50/50 ball, not even a shoulder to shoulder situation. Morrow probably felt he could not risk a shoulder to shoulder stance as last man back, so he won the ball.

Up until this moment, it was a game that hung in the balance. I can't bring myself to dissect the TFC defensive lapses that made the Columbus goals possible, since the Gantar decision created an unbalanced second half.
It does underline the need for TFC to establish themselves early. Giovinco had some shots that were worthy. Cheyrou played well. I am still not sold on the TFC midfield as a central block and letting Creavalle and Morrow be responsible for all wing play. Having an overlapping back works best with an element of surprise. Vanney's TFC uses it as a steady diet item.
I am most worried about Ashtone Morgan, who took over as left back with the banishment of Morrow. I have been a fan of Morgan's, often attributing his mistakes to youthful exuberance. Last night he was gambling and losing balls in open field, failing to get goal side when Altidore was back helping defend Morgan's section of the pitch. Just awful.
Two weeks until TFC play away in Utah (Real Salt Lake). Hopefully the sting of this cruel outcome will fuel some fire for that next game. Stay tuned

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Game 1 - TFC controls Whitecaps and parade route planning begins VW 1 TFC 3

Welcome season 2015! Fire up the television set and adjust the antenna, we are about to watch the TFC Bradleys play game 1 on the road in Vancouver.

Now this blogger has been keeping an intensely low profile. Oh yes, I watched those pre-season games from Brandenton Florida. But what was the point of blogging about mist and rain and strange camera angles, I ask you? You knew that they looked ragged. Yet, you had to expect that considering just how many newcomers were trying to fit into the squad. Sure Altidore and Bradley have had years together through their USMNT days, but Perquis and Cheyrou and Giovinco and Findley are in that crunchy mix too. 

They still looked somewhat in the crunchy mix phase as the first half in Vancouver rolled along. Whitecap newcomer Octavio Rivero missed a gift with a stutter step and you feared that it would be the only break Toronto got for the night. The home team looked like a smooth concoction and it seemed as if their plan of attack was to hit Caldwell with speedy players who could glide on by. One of those glides did result in the Vancouver goal as Whitecap Kah set up Octavio Rivero for his first Vancouver goal and the injustice of that earlier miss was put to rest.

However the rest of the story was a shocker. The Whitecaps lost control of the midfield, could not control the ball and started passing the ball as if they had just met for the first time before the game. Where did Coach Carl Robinson's cinderella run to the playoff guys go to? TFC started to play a control game, creating a slow build up and using thoughtful movement. Their passing began to take  over.
Then Osorio to Giovinco, Gio curled around a defender and fed a through ball to Altidore and Jozy Altidore had his first TFC goal. It was a statement goal. It might be too, too early to call it a "I can be a Defoe-like scorer around here" sort of statement, but you got the sense that  

Now I am not a fan of 4-3-3, at least not the way Winter's TFC used to play it.  TFC started with Altidore as the left winger (although he crossed to the right for goal 1) and tiny Giovinco as a centre forward. The midfield of Osorio, Cheyrou and Bradley seemed to start off in an unsure formation, they were bunching up and not getting their tracking back assignments clear between them.
Then once the game was tied, the cohesion of TFC just seemed to rise. The second half was all Toronto. Sure, Joe Bendik had to make some saves and the defenders were tested. Morrow was able to attack down the left wing (his run and cross created the Findley goal making it 2 for TFC), Creavalle had a sturdy game on the right. Perquis looks like a real find, positions himself well, recovers quickly and might be the best TFC central defender on the ball since, since, since ever? I think that second half Bradley was protecting Caldwell from the young lightning bolts of Vancouver, but they both played well. I like Cheyrou's style and passing. The potential power of Altidore (scored his second goal on a pk) and Giovinco has to put a smile on every Toronto fan's face tonight.

Now I know, I know - TFC started last year with a win on the road (Seattle) and we were instantly swept up. But I have a feeling that the Toronto Bradleys are a stronger team than the Toronto Bradley-Defoes of 2014. Not that they are in any way a one man team, Cheyrou allows Michael Bradley a comfort zone and the attacking options are amazing. It is just easier to call them the Toronto Bradleys than a mishmash of Gio and Jozy and Benoit and Damien and....

Going out on a limb here, but I think Columbus (TFC's road opponent next weekend) could be a touch worried. Stay tuned and keep smiling. Mother's Day (the day of TFC's home opener) is still two months away.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Out of the cold lakeside fog a plan emerges....TFC offseason moves

Recent weeks have been too much for me. I am a unabashed Bez Basher and here he goes making moves that I approve of!! wtf as the kids say....

The action seems to set up the dialogue- something like this...

Bez Action

TFC draft Alex Bono with their first pick in the MLS draft. Gen Adidas player so no salary cap hit for years. He has enough promise that he is not present at the draft, he is at a USMNT camp having a Jurgen Klinsmann visit.

Fan comment 

A keeper? We have a starter, a young prospect and a vet backup (Bendik, Roberts and Konopka). Defending was our problem and Doneil Henry is gone to West Ham. Please fill the defender ranks Mr. Bez.

Bez Action

TFC draft three defenders in a row from the college ranks (Clement Simonin, Skylar Thomas and Wes Charpee).

Fan comment

Oh sure, a flood of rookie defenders who, instead of being forced to fill in for Caldwell when injured, should be suiting up for the USL Pro team...

Bez Action 

TFC signs Damien Perquis late of Real Betis and an experienced centre back. TFC trades with Seattle Sounders for Erik Zavaleta who had been playing as a centre back for Chivas USA on loan and happens to be nephew to Coach Vanney.
Found this Canadian Press pic on the Guelph Mercury site - it is a better pic of Sportsnet's John Molinaro tweeting than of new TFC defender Damian Perquis. The KIA TFC backdrop is there for a reason....

Fan comment

Okay, enough defenders already. You have high priced talent in the middle of the pitch, Bradley, Giovinco and Altidore. Yet we have little on the wings. Jackson scored 5? Oduro 2 and Lovitz 0. You know if you don't get some wide threats teams are going to clog up the middle because TFC can't generate attack from the wings...

Bez Action 

TFC trade Dominic Oduro to Montreal for allocation cash

Fan comment

Either TFC is going to depend on Jackson and Lovitz to play wide or some future move is taking shape...

We foolish few who sweat over the small TFC stuff are starting to see a Bez pattern and I am having a hard time finding anything amiss with it. The casual fan might be swept up with the big signings of Altidore and Giovinco, but the lovers of the nitty gritty have been happy as holes have been filled and the team has been taking shape.

Dare I suggest a defensive midfielder and a winger?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

TFC signs Sebastian Giovinco to largest MLS salary (and still I worry for TFC 2015)

Sebastian "Atomic Ant" Giovinco

I have been struggling for days with the recent onslaught of TFC news. Good news and great news has been tumbling in, but how do I turn this info into a blog post. Just what is the official "Mistake by the Lake" take on the state of TFC?

It was an incredible moment last weekend when a friend and fellow fan contacted me and told me that the Sebastian Giovinco signing was breaking news. I do not follow Serie A, but I know what level of quality player Juventus represents. The signing of a 27 year old player from a UEFA Champions League level Italian superclub is a MLS and Toronto breakthrough. Yet I have not spent the hours since then thinking that TFC have finally stumbled on the winning formula. I have my concerns.

Arrival concern

Since his contract with Juventus ends with June, Giovinco is scheduled to begin with Toronto on July 1st. The problem with that is the Gold Cup. It is scheduled for July this summer, so Giovinco will arrive just in time to see the best Americans and Canadians on TFC leave to play for their national teams. If he is unable to train or play with the team in June, I just have the feeling that August will be when the team truly gathers. That is a long time to wait for a finished product, although finishing the year better than you started is not TFC tradition.
Internet rumours are pointing towards TFC paying a transfer fee to move Giovinco into Toronto colours earlier. That is a move I would applaud.

Size concern

The MLS is a physical league. Combine athletic defending muscle with shaky officiating and you have a tough place for a smaller attacking player to thrive. Giovinco is not Joao Plata sized, but I worry...

Adjustment concern

I feel that in order to know what will make things right in Toronto for Giovinco, we need to know what went wrong with Jermain Defoe
Giovinco has never been to Toronto before, which I think was also true of Defoe at the time of his signing. 

Coaching concern

I will save this one for a future post.

A historical footnote

Roberto Bettega - top left

I just had to cover my little sense of deja vu and in doing so reveal just how old this blogger is.
Toronto has been down this path before as have local soccer fans of my generation and older. In 1983 the Toronto Blizzard signed Roberto Bettega from Juventus to play in Toronto. Bettega played two years in Toronto and even played in The Soccer Bowl at Varsity Stadium. He scored in a losing cause in the Blizzard's final game in the NASL.

I have never been a fan of the team building through national heritage approach. I have argued long and hard that locally developed talent is the future of the game in Canada and I continue to scratch my head as to why we have not produced. It is a sad state really. 30 years ago, watching Bettega in a Blizzard uniform, would I have predicted that come 2015 we would still be importing Euro talent because we have none of our own to compare?

Talk soon...

Friday, January 16, 2015

"TFC 2015" the strangest tv series - welcoming new characters and pleading for a new plot

Drama in the sky, comedy down below
If Toronto F.C. were a television series it would have a difficult time convincing viewers that it was a sports comedy/drama. Most observers would figure it was science fiction, if only because characters descend, spin for a while and then vanish. It could also be considered soap opera, long pauses, close ups of fans in discomfort and duelling press conferences.
Whatever genre you think it falls under, the hardest concept behind looking at TFC as television series is believing that it would be going into it’s ninth season. Football clubs have luxuries that television shows just don’t enjoy.

2015 TFC has a host of new characters. They say they are onto a winning formula. Defoe sold, Altidore bought is the biggest headline so far. The smaller headlines are woven into the character sketches presented in hopeless hopeful detail below. 

Coach characters

Coach Greg Vanney - at least fans hope he counts as a new character, his debut as a late season replacement for Ryan Nelsen was of questionable quality. He seemed to be thoughtful and strategic when speaking to the media, but lost when the starting line-ups were presented and again when the game was in progress. Hiring his own sidekick/mentor Robin Fraser and drafting his own players should give him momentum for the new season. TFC don’t play a home game until May. Vanney could be growing in confidence or vulnerable by that May 10 home game.

Coach Robin Fraser - New assistant coach. Played with Vanney, coached with Vanney. he is an experienced MLS coach. Last year Nelsen’s number two, Fran O’Leary, had zero MLS experience. If TFC start off 2015 looking good, look for Robin Fraser to get some of the credit.

Coach Jason Bent - He is the head coach of TFC’s new “farm” club playing in the USL Pro division - home field still to be determined. When Nelsen and all of his assistants were fired last Labour Day weekend, Jason Bent was the only survivor. Instead of sending playing prospects to Wilmington as in 2014, TFC should see them develop together under Bent. This should make the biggest difference when injuries strike the senior team. Apart from having the depth to survive injuries to the big stars of Bradley and Altidore (more to come?), Bent’s squad should be depth players in waiting. TFC lacking depth has been a condition woven through too many seasons.

Coach Stuart Neeley - Coach Vanney was in charge of the TFC Academy last year. So Neeley has been brought back to Toronto to fill that spot. It is hoped that the USL Pro team will make the Academy a bigger attraction for young soccer talent in Ontario as it will be the link between Academy and TFC. 

New Player Characters

Jozy Altidore

Jozy Altidore - A top US National team player and our 2015 mystery man. Just by putting on the TFC shirt he ends the Jermain Defoe at TFC saga. However his time in Sunderland of the EPL was less than thrilling in either minutes played or goals scored. He and Michael Bradley have played on the USMNT together now for years. The all American leadership of TFC (Tim L., Tim B., Coach Vanney, Coach Fraser) think Altidore is a multi-million dollar part of the elusive winning formula. The EPL entranced TFC fan base are concerned about the Sunderland performance and are usually less impressed by US Men’s National Team credentials. Admitting how much of that is just Canadian sour grapes is always hard to calculate.

Tim B., Jay Chapman and Coach Vanney- either ignoring the tradition of showing the shirt WITH PLAYER'S NAME or attempting cooperative laundry folding
Jay Chapman - A Canadian midfielder, signed to TFC as “homegrown player” instead of going into the draft as a Michigan State player. He could be growing on the farm team in 2015. If he is on the senior squad that could spell trouble for the existing Canadians in the midfield - Kyle Bekker and Jonathan Osorio.

Alex Bono -TFC's first pick in Superdraft 2015.

Alex Bono -Clement Simonin- Skylar Thomas
The three first round draft choices of TFC just this week. Bono is the one to watch - he has already been called up to the US Men’s National Team for a look. The USA  has long overtaken Canada in the area of developing goalkeepers. If Alex Bono proves to be the heir to Tim Howard for the USMNT, then TFC will have hit the college draft jackpot.
Simonin is a defender and Skylar Thomas is a young Canadian defender with plenty of size and played his college ball out in front of keeper Bono at Syracuse.

Wesley Charpie - Edwin Rivas
TFC’s second round draft choices. History has not been kind to any of Toronto’s draft choices, but second rounders are even less known for staying around. Lovitz the left footed winger from last year is the only exception right now as he was a 2014 second rounder. Perhaps the TFC USL Pro team will give these guys a chance to develop and grow.

The cast of characters is not frozen at this point. At the Altidore signing Tim B. mentioned that further signings are possible prior to training camp and then during the pre-season. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Our year of Defoe - Red Bull squabble, 2 goals in Seattle and tea spit commercials

It is hard for me to write that I am thrilled that Jermain Defoe has finally departed. I am wrestling with the idea that he never really arrived.
Jermaine Defoe is undergoing his medical with Sunderland as I write this. It was noted by a few folks that Jan.13/2014 was the day of the intro Defoe (and Michael Bradley) TFC press conference and Jan.13/2015 was the day of his sale to Sunderland. So our TFC year of Defoe could be measured as stretching from one winter to the next. Somehow I think this is a measure of how long he was a name on Toronto's roster, not a measure of how long he belonged in Toronto. Not that he ever reduced his effort on the field, but what connections did he build? Who kicks a ball on our soil who credits Defoe for making those around him better?

The mess of TFC has been created by many "leaders" making the same mistake - go for the big move before your series of small moves have paid off. These small moves would involve trades, drafts and most importantly homegrown talent. TFC has put time and effort into their academy, but where are the results?
I have taken the time to write down the Canadians and the TFC draft picks that are presently on the roster down at the bottom of this post. Out of that list do you see any breakout players who are going to contribute to TFC in 2015? Far more likely you are looking at the players of the USL Pro team that TFC are fielding in 2015.
We are very aware of the low FIFA ranking of Canada, but could you imagine how much lower that could go if we magically create an Ontario team?  Yet, the mythical Ontario U20 team is our homegrown talent base.

I am not saying stop pursuing the international talent. Michael Bradley is TFC's foundation and should a happy Jozy Altidore match the Defoe goal total of 11 (and not be TFC's top scorer) TFC could do well in 2015. I understand that 8000 new seats need to be sold and that names sell tickets.

But more important than big name signings is TFC learning a lesson from our year of Defoe. TFC standings success in 2015 is only the surface of the story. TFC needs builders and teachers and coaches. It is hoped that recent coach signings of Stuart Neeley and Robin Fraser are positive steps. As is an ongoing search for a TFC President.
Any player signing for Toronto has to make contributions both on and off the field. They have to understand that they are not just putting on a shirt, but adopting a province. They have to inspire something bigger than tea spit commercials.

Canadian talent- Jordan Hamilton, Kyle Bekker, Jonathan Osorio, Ashtone Morgan, Quillan Roberts, Manuel Aparicio, Chris Mantella and we hope to be adding Jay Chapman.

MLS Draft picks - Nick Hagglund, Daniel Lovitz and Bekker from the above list. In days the MLS Superdraft takes place. TFC has 5 picks in the first two rounds.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Defoe sold to Sunderland

and now all we have are the memories...

A ton of reports that TFC have sold Jermaine Defoe to Sunderland in the EPL. $11 million has been quoted, but how much of that is cash and how much is in the form of Jozy Altidore remains to be seen.

So ends another chapter of TFC disasters. My fingers are crossed that it was the final chapter, but that sort of optimism gets you nowhere fast around here.

More to come.