Sunday, April 24, 2016

Getting Over Drogba - Montreal 0 Toronto FC 2

Ah, the pleasure. The pleasure enhanced because one was expecting pain. Montreal smoked meat pain.

2015 ended for Toronto FC with a double dose of Didier Drogba's Montreal Impact. You know the story. The pleasure of making the playoffs for Toronto was thoroughly smothered by losing the home playoff date through losing that final game in Montreal, followed by the disaster of the knockout game in Montreal just days later...

Montreal was a monster at the end of last year, under the spell of Drogba's scoring and skill and spirit. The news that he was making his first start of the 2016 season against Toronto was enough for the nightmares to start again. I might not have been the only TFC fan who had thrown in the towel on this road trip now that the Montreal and Portland section had been reached. Give us some character building moments and an injury free stretch and one could just count the days to the home opener.

Well, hold off on the towel throwing, TFC 2016 is shaping up to be giant steps ahead of where we fans are used to be. Montreal was subdued in their own stadium and TFC seemed capable of scoring more than the two.

Drogba dread ... delayed?

Second shut out in a row for Irwin. Seldom tested, but what a difference he has made to the team!
The back four of Beitashour, Perquis, Moor and Morrow continues to look smooth and cohesive.
The diamond midfield of Will Johnson on the left wing, Osorio forward and Bradley at the base looked very strong. You can tell that Marky Delgado continues to be the junior member of the midfield contingent, but he contributes.
Giovinco scored both goals, one a pk from a foul on Altidore and the other a sacrificial set up from Will Johnson. 

Next Sunday, May 1 is the game away to Portland and then countdown to the home opener....

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Quick goal followed by long grind - DC United 0 TFC 1

TFC whipped up an acceptable recipe for winning or getting points from road games today versus DC United. Score before their keeper has had time to ensure his gloves are on correctly (Giovinco now owns the TFC record for fastest goal in a game at 58 seconds) and then take care of business.
I would not submit the game as evidence of TFC 2016 at their peak, but progress is being made.

close-up of DC keeper at critical juncture...

Keeping in mind that TFC President Manning said before the season began that getting eight points from the season opening eight game road trip was his goal (and he repeated this target in the tv interview at halftime), it must help to hit eight points after six games. The games still to come prior to playing in Toronto are in Montreal and in Portland. Another point or two would be a bonus, but it's not expected.

I continue to admire the growth of the midfield pairing of Bradley and Johnson. This might have been the sort of game that they dream of, lead grabbed early and plenty of time to snap at heels and close off space. They took charge.
Marky Delgado was taken off for Jay Chapman in the second half. It was good to see Chapman get some playing time. I am not sure which of these two are going to grab a starting role. Or, shades of recent years when Luke Moore would get time on the wing, does Jozy Altidore get the right side of the midfield and a new striker is brought in?

Clint Irwin did not make any spectacular stops, but deserved the clean sheet.

Playing a home game in three weeks time feels a touch less like fiction with spring weather finally making a visit. Rumour is that season ticket packages are about to be delivered in the week ahead.

Keep cheering....

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Eke! - road point taken NE Rev 1 TFC 1

A close contest.

I'd rather have a point or 2 from the two better defended away games ahead of today, but I also am aware that taking points from New England has been a rare feat in recent years. TFC will gladly take the point. 
As a tortured fan, trying to balance out the despair of the first half AND then accept the sheer fortune of the second half, you can force me to gladly take the point too. I would be tempted to explore the concept of karma after the game today, but dare not tempt fate.

I mentioned despair.
It was horrible to see TFC go down a goal early in the game. One positive from season 2016 so far has been the stingy play of the back four (and the dependable play of new keeper Irwin). I was not a fan of Steven Beitashour's reaction, after the goal was scored, to his own team. Even if it had been Marky Delgado's role to mark Rowe on the play, don't show the guy up. Makes you look less like a pro and puts team turmoil on television. The tougher part to swallow, after going down a goal early, was how ineffective TFC looked on the ball in that first half. Bad passes, cheap give aways and a general lack of ideas. You know it is tough when you start thinking "I could be watching the Masters" during a TFC game.

I mentioned sheer fortune.
Perhaps the displeasure at calls going against TFC or fouls against us not being called finally registered somewhere, but TFC had a lot of luck today. Both Moor and Bradley COULD have been called on fouls in the box. They might have been borderline, but most times penalties would have been given. In the very late going New England scored a goal that the assistant ref had spotted was the result of passing the ball back from over the endline. That was a close one.

I was not impressed with the play of either Marky Delgado or Jonathan Osorio today. Just because TFC without any attack down the wings has been a feature for years, doesn't mean that we fans have to like it.  Johnson and Bradley both raised their games in the second half, but action down the middle of the pitch is going to need better threats on the wing. Endoh, a rookie, seems to be a better choice for a starting role than either Oso or Delgado. A summer signing? A trade? 

I know he has his critics, but there are too many times when Jozy Altidore plays more like a prospect learning the game than a cagey vet earning the big bucks. His pass to set-up Giovinco's goal was vet stuff, his heading the cross high late in the first half was prospect stuff.

The road show continues for three more games. May I strongly state my plea that the TFC blue shorts be shelved, notably for the game in Montreal? Thanks for reading... 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

A double foul night Rapids 1 TFC 0

It is early in the season, so I don't want to inject too much panic into my account of game 4 vs Colorado Rapids. The early target was to gain a minimum of what, eight points from the first 8 games (all on the road). Now at four points after four games, 8 can still happen. Hell, win the next three (New England, DC and Montreal) and losing two 1-0 games in a row will be forgotten.

The target for season 2016 was to cut down on goals against and only allowing a goal is a step in the right direction. Clint Irwin was solid and spectacular in the net for TFC. The defending of the back four may not be world class, but it does have the potential to be the best that Toronto has ever had.

The big question at this stage of the season is scoring goals.

I like Benoit Cheyrou, I really do. The TFC midfield is a work in progress (what else is new?) and I can see Cheyrou playing a role in that midfield. When he is on his game he combines sharp passing with tough tackling. He is a veteran player, no longer swift, but good to have on the squad. Tonight we would have been better off if he had missed the flight out west.

Cheyrou picked up two yellow cards in rapid succession and had TFC down a man with 70+ minutes to play. Ref may have been harsh, Cheyrou may have been reckless. It did cast a huge shadow over the game, not just as a fan, but as an evening's entertainment.

At the end of the night I felt it was bit of a"plague on both of your houses"situation. Colorado truly needed that man advantage for 70 minutes to eke out a 1-0 win. They seemed so damned thrilled with themselves after the final whistle. Bush league (although it could be just tv camera selection bias).

Back to the frustration with watching TFC NOT score for two games in a row.
TFC had far too many passengers, for too much of the game. Sure, you need to double your effort at defending when down a player, but attacking play and awareness too often vanished. It became a night of hoping that Giovinco could make something of nothing. Lovitz? Baboulli? Osorio? Altidore? All contributed far too little. Bradley and Johnson had effort and energy still in the tank at the end, but they had times aplenty where their passing and moving contributions were minimal.

One hopes that letting this one slip through the team's fingers will inspire TFC to put on a performance next weekend on that crappy turf in Foxboro vs the Revolution. It has not been the site for many moments of TFC glory, time for a new tradition.

PS I blame EVERYTHING that went wrong tonight on those uniforms - red/white/blue makes TFC look too All-American in my view. It took me some minutes to register which team was TFC. This is what TFC would look like if purchased by Donald Trump.  

I say, bring back the red and grey

Sunday, March 20, 2016

TFC loses to SKC 1-0 - full marks for cohesion and effort, needs to improve on creativity

TFC needed a spark tonight in Kansas City. They lacked finish. It would have been nice to see Tsubasa Endoh score his first goal, he was a goalkeeper finger tip away from that.

They were a team that looked capable of scoring and controlled sections of the game. The effort was there, but ending up down one goal late in the game is not the route to road success. Despite having a man advantage for a time and all three substitutions revealing Vanney's willingness to go all out on the attack. they could not conjure up a comeback.
There was plenty of evidence that improvements have been made. TFC looked strong when defending. They moved the ball well out of the back and did not look like a team just getting to know each other, which they are.

So, the long road trip continues.
3 down and 5 to go before TFC hosts their home opener. If the next three games end up a repeat of the first three, a win, a draw and a loss - a fan could be very, very happy with that. Colorado, New England and DC United don't seem to be as tough a group of opponents than the ones TFC just finished with.

Until the next time...

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Points in New York - twice already in 2016

TFC came from 2 goals down to draw NYCFC and continue to gain points from every game in 2016. The rising confidence of Toronto FC seemed to jump out of the tv screen, notably in the second half. When Toronto scored late in the first half to pull within one goal of NY,  I had the gut feeling that TFC was capable of more and NY was incapable of shutting them down. We were treated to a few scary defending moments late in the game, but nothing New York did was any way near to matching the skill and snap of that Giovinco goal that tied the game earlier.

It's so pleasing to salute the TFC performance today in Yankee Stadium. In some ways I am happier with a draw versus NYCFC than I was with with the victory over the Red Bulls last weekend.
NYCFC seem to have had TFC's number last season (NYCFC were new to the league). It might be too early to give them the role of TFC's "bogey" team, but I feared this second game in NY more than the first (I know that NY Red Bulls play out of New Jersey, but you get the drift).
I still have vivid memories of the first meeting of these teams in Toronto last summer. The New Yorkers strategy was a physical one, hack and chop at Giovinco. The ref would not protect Gio and New York took advantage. It was easy to fear another match with TFC being taken advantage of...

The ref got it mostly right today in Yankee Stadium. The penalty call was the correct one. The blind eye to the Villa hand ball in the second goal was dodgy. After that the game was a smooth one.

I thought that Marky Delgado played a strong game down the wing today. There were a few times when I felt that he deferred too often and too much to the scoring potential of the big names around him. Hey, Delgado, you are tied for the second highest goal scorer on the team - so take your shots.

So now it is into KC for the last game of March. The April road games present Colorado, New England,  DC United and then Montreal. I had read that the TFC president Manning had felt that 8 points was a worthy goal from these first 8 road games. 4 points already with 6  games to play makes that bar look too low.
Keep cheering...

Yankee Stadium as a soccer ground.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

2016 Road game #1 vs New York Red Bulls - Oh, one could learn to love this efficiency and attention to defending...

Those frigid and bleak months have rolled by. The winter storms have howled through. The driveway shovelled and shovelled, salted and shovelled again. Dog walks became my offseason interest (when conditions allowed). The calendar tells us that spring is only days away and therefore a new TFC season 2016 must be upon us. Can this be?

Have we tamed the memories of the stunning, stumbling mess of those two games in Montreal that brought 2015 to a close? A long winter of long walks might do that for you. Heartbreak was the theme when we last gathered to cheer for the grey and red. I owe this space a blog to just capture the offseason but allow me to sum up.
Goodbye Joe Bendik and Chris Konopka,  Jackson and Robbie Findley, Luke Moore , Herc Gomez and Collen Warner. Almost forgot Ahmed Kantari..
Hello, hello to Will Johnson, Steve Beitashour, Drew Moor, Clint Irwin and Tsubasah Endoh.
Got it?

A pre-season game or two caught from Florida on somebody's youtube channel gave me a little glimpse of TFC 2016, but it was nothing to blog on about. I have always struggled with blogging about games watched on television. Blah - camera angles are deceptive as they vary from stadium to stadium. Blah, blah - your ability to watch formations or match-ups or developments well off the ball gets compromised. Yet, it will be two more months before we head to our seats (now covered). Oh the tyranny of construction.

Today's game turned out to be a treat, a tonic for the wailing "can't wait for May" true blue TFC fan (did I just use the colour "blue" to describe a fan of the red and grey?).

The first half was clunky and creaky. TFC struggled to find any passing tempo, but their defending held up. Perquis looks better with Moor around and Irwin behind to steady things (I'm a fan of Perquis, but he does have a terrible habit of removing himself from the action COMPLETELY when he makes a claim for offside). The tactic of Bradley well back in the midfield and Giovinco well forward seemed to work. At least I hope it was a tactic, what if it was just a sign that the two of them are not getting along?
2nd half had early signs of good ship TFC battening down the hatches and hoping to hold on for 45. K.J. on the broadcast had it right when he called for Lovitz out and Delgado in on the left side of the field. Once the substitution was made, then the counter-attacks began to click and the goals were scored. TFC winning in New York (technically New Jersey), next weekend they get to try it again with the NYCFC group that treated them badly last year.
2016 TFC off to a great start. There are so many pairings and partnerships that are straight from the factory new on this team (Endoh out to the right with Beitashour behind him, Bradley and Johnson down the middle, Moor and Perquis behind them, Irwin as the new keeper) that you need to expect rust and clunk and setbacks and time to gel. That aspect makes the victory that much sweeter. Thanks for reading...

The roof just up on the south end (some weeks ago)