Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bordering on too little, too late - but criminal ref denies Gilberto winning goal Chicago Fire 1 Toronto FC 1

David Gantar, a disgrace of a ref

I was thinking that my game report was going to be short and sour. I was most unhappy with TFC looking horrible in Chicago. Then DeRo scored and ......
That ref decision in the final seconds to steal a goal from Gilberto was criminal.

What foul? Where was this foul? TV replayed the sequence over and over again. Michael Bradley had to be restrained at the end of the game.

You have to hope that this fool ref, David Gantar, has accidentally inspired TFC through this blatant, point robbing decision. We will have to wait a week to see what kind of game Toronto plays a week from Sunday against Chivas USA.

There was a lot of fan suffering tonight. I think that Jackson and Oduro have played themselves off of the team. For the first 80 minutes TFC lacked finish, no drives to the net, no space creation and no zest for shooting.
A five star salute to Joe Bendik for keeping TFC in the game with his penalty save, rebound save and then diving scoop in a matter of seconds.

It is amazing how cursed and mangled this team is. They do seem to bring a lot of it upon themselves with insipid play, but then the injustice of a crazy ref does them in.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Clear skies yet TFC in a fog Toronto FC 0 Philadelphia Union 2

So much for the "new coach bounce". Toronto's parade of woeful home performances continued at BMO Field Saturday as the Philly Union scored two in the first half and Toronto had no response. It has been a while since TFC had any positive responses in any aspect of life. They managed to hit posts and crossbars in the second half, but they were more a team hoping to get lucky than a team that found itself when the going got tough. This is a team that has lost itself.

If the reason to fire Ryan Nelsen was that a tailspin with ten games could be corrected what is the verdict now with 8 games left? Today, if you were looking for signs that the tailspin will end, it was a day of squinting. The sound at the end of the game was a loud smack as the fans began kissing the fading prospect of MLS playoffs goodbye.

The hardest worker in a TFC jersey was Dwayne DeRosario.  In a time of turmoil (and the day of DeRo and his cheque signing goal celebration conveniently forgotten) he is taking a leadership role through effort. He is making it clear that playing for Toronto can be a motivation in itself. However it is also clear that DeRo at age 36 can't have too many more games left.

Despite DeRo's contribution, the team does not look like a cohesive unit. Toronto FC has shown in recent weeks that they can't compete with New England, can't compete with Philadelphia and can only squeak a point at home versus Chicago..

Coach Vanney gets marks for an improved substitution pattern. Although it appears that the Warner off/ Kyle Bekker on sub late in the first half was due to injury, the Bradley/Warner combo continues to be under the microscope. Vanney also put on Jackson for a tired Dero and late Creavalle for Hagglund.

When Philadelphia was taking an early corner, it was time for a nervous glance at the clock to see that five minutes elapsed without allowing a goal. The first Philadelphia goal was still early and Toronto has proven to be hopeless at coming back. Hopeless at scoring, hopeless at preventing goals at home, hopeless at avoiding mindless giveaways, hopeless at moving with the ball, hopeless at moving off the ball, hopeless at anticipating each other. A lot of hopeless.  

The saddest part of this "bloody big mess" is that the path forward is unknown. Cheering for this team can feel like ancient oceanfront living, the fog rolls in regularly and the air is filled with the sounds of ships sinking. I bring this up because I am still convinced that a maritime disaster may be the connection to the team curse.

If this decline continues, what does an offseason hold? How many rebuilds can one team have? I am scrambling for some positives here as my memories of a limp Saturday afternoon dominate all.
Positives include-
There are a handful of first round draft picks to use in 2015.
There will be the search for a coach or at least a coaching staff.
There will be the possibility of a contrite Tim Leiweke making amends and finding a star to truly build the team around, but I think he will just high-tail it out of town. Then his successor will fire Tim Bezbatchenko and then proceed to ignore TFC until the day the franchise is sold or flies out of town. So much for staying positive.

It is funny (perverse) how a Toronto Football Cursed season unfolds. In the early months Defoe and Bradley settled in early and Gilberto looked shaky. Now I think that Gilberto is more likely to be part of 2015 than Defoe.

Walking away from the game my cell phone buzzed with the breaking news that Jermaine Defoe is now scheduled to return to training on September 20 (the day before the next home game). Did TFC bigwigs spot the south end banner with an outline of Defoe and the word "Judas" beneath it? Do they think that Defoe scoring a goal or two is going to beat back the sense of betrayal the fans are likely to express? I wonder if Defoe will train with TFC and get a sense of the atmosphere in Toronto towards him and find a way to stay off the starting roster in the weeks ahead or will MLSE find a way to make him play.
Tim Leiweke has to be aware that he deserves as much scathing scrutiny as Jermaine Defoe. Big Tim is the man responsible for signing the star player who just might last in TO from Euro winter transfer window to the next Euro winter transfer window.  
Next game is next weekend in Chicago. The game must be watched, but you look forward to it the way you look towards a medical appointment. I will have my OHIP card by my side.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Curses foiled again - Philly 1 Toronto Football Curses 0

I get upset when people call the team I follow, the team I care and cheer about, a joke. It is the meanest insult to suggest that a layer of comedy falls upon the sincere love that you feel for your team.

However an evil spell is not insulting at all. If anything, it raises the virtue of the fan (and the devoted blogger). Here is someone who throws faith, energy and spirit at the team despite a wicked aura that has plagued it since day one. I am entertaining the notion that the curse is specific to the land by the lake. The CNE grounds have had many stadia, but the teams that play in them are not championship calibre. I think that only the 1983 Argos won the Canadian Football League's Grey Cup while calling the old Exhibition Stadium home and they won the Cup in Vancouver. BMO Field occupies most of the land on which previous stadiums were built.
Could it have been a curse connected to the battle of Fort York? A maritime disaster? I would have to consult some historical maps to see the growing shoreline of Toronto in the CNE area over the years. Standby for some pain staking historical research. Curses have a connotation of evil, but is it not equally possible that a good person wronged can put a curse on people, places and things?

So I have decided that the "C" in Toronto FC stands for Cursed or Curses or Curse. I am willing to go further into the vocabulary and try for cursive and cursory but give me time to extend my foolish head space.

The Cursed were hosted last night by the Philadelphia Union. Philly Union is a team that has qualified for the playoffs some years and has had a middle level of MLS success. They had a rough start to this season, but now find themselves tied with the Cursed for a playoff spot after last night's victory.

I was spared the pleasure of watching Toronto FC vs New England last Saturday, so I am guessing that the Toronto effort was improved from that day which has already passed into TFC legend. It was the first game under new coach Greg Vanney and I did not see much tactical change but these are early days.
The substitution pattern was very non-Nelsen. A change of Gilberto for Osorio (perhaps injury forced) at half time and then Dike for Oduro and Weidemen for Lovitz. The late offensive subs were after Toronto had gone down to ten man and Vanney was clearly going for a late goal. A fine gesture with no result.
It was Ashtone Morgan red carded for pulling down Sebastien Le Toux on a clear breakaway in the second half. I suspect that the Toronto Football Curse hits some players harder than others or builds up as your time with Toronto increases. This was the second year in a row that Morgan has been red carded away to Philadelphia. I think most TFC fans want Ashtone Morgan to be a success. I would want to judge his play last night while looking beyond the second half sending off, but his was not a statement sort of game. Now Morgan can't be selected for Saturday's hosting of Philly.

Watching TFC I was wondering if this was truly a potential playoff team. Injuries to Defoe, Caldwell, Morrow and Creavalle have cut the squad down to size, but bring those players back healthy and I am still less than confident.
Think about the players that were starters last night.
Warner and Oduro have kicked around the MLS for years and despite Oduro's scoring record I think it is fair to call them MLS journeymen now.
Osorio and Morgan are in the category of local talent. We want great things, but progress has been jumpy, slow, sometimes non-existent and less than stellar.
Hagglund and Henry were the central defenders and they might be both just old enough to buy a beer in the USA. If these two were the starting central defenders down on the farm team we would be drooling over their potential. Instead they take their lumps, learn on the job and (of late) eventually are broken down by every team.
Luke Moore kicked the ball into the Delaware River which flows just outside of the stadium. Moore has had some good games for the Curses, but kicking it out of the stadium seems to be the contribution of late.
Lovitz is a rookie winger who is getting a vote of confidence from new coach Vanney. Perhaps I was concerned with a big road game with a starting midfield of Lovitz (0 goals) Warner (0 goals), Bradley (1 goal) and Osorio (2 goals) that has not made much of an offensive contribution in 2014. Perhaps we should be used to it, TFC has long been cursed with a low scoring midfield.
Joe Bendik made some good saves, can hardly be faulted on the Philly goal and might be a playoff team keeper. I think that having another keeper
Mark Bloom played well. I think on the Philly goal he was trying to cover for Ashtone Morgan. When he is on his game Bloom is a thoughtful defender. I think that it is reflection of how little this group has played together that Bloom's overlap runs have dwindled in 2014.
Michael Bradley wants to do more, but he needs help. He was too often, in the late stages of the game, trying to drive the ball forward on his own and the opponents knew it. Warner has had the months after the World Cup return to become Bradley's midfield partner and it is not working.
After all these games and all these years - TFC need dependable defenders that are good on the ball, an attacking central midfielder, wingers who can score and a (post Defoe) striker who can score. So many aspects of the Toronto Football Curse never seem to change.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Nelsen and coaching staff said to be out- waiting for Bezbatchenko press conference at 4pm

So, you are a devoted fan and season seat holder, but you are not happy when the MLS schedule gives Toronto home games on the Labour Day weekend. You have a cottage tradition to respect and therefore you give your daughter your tickets and try to follow your Toronto FC soccer over the wi fi...

Bez (pre-game to press, I think Friday??) says that they are a good team and should be playing better (which is partially accurate and partially covering his inactive summer window). They are an experienced team, have had time to gel and should be getting results.
Toronto FC proceeds to flounder on the pitch and loses 3-0 to New England Revolution. My buddy at the game described it as "pathetic".
Coach Nelsen uses his post game press conference to defend his players and complain about GM Bez's comments. States that it increased the pressure and that Saturday should not have been a pressure game.
Sunday afternoon the news comes that Nelsen and his coaching staff have been fired. At this point it has been tweeted by John Molinaro and Paul Attfield and appeared on the Sportsnet website.

I am a blogger and a fan who understands the need for Toronto FC stability, but I will not be lamenting the loss of Ryan Nelsen. I doubted his connection to the team, the city and the country. I thought that he was overly protective of the players and had a disregard for the fans. If he was making progress as a coach as we entered September and October and a MLS playoff push, his players sure had a funny way of showing it.
He always made substitutions seemingly as an afterthought and well after the time that you would have thought a change would have an impact on the game. Tactics and stategy and formation were always basic and did not seem to evolve - ever.
I did not see this coming. I was guessing a Nelsen-Bez meeting and a patch it up process to move into the playoffs. But it makes a lot of sense....

CNE offers you rides, TFC offers you slides TFC 0 New England Revolution 3

Summer is a time when opportunities to get out of town are plentiful and TFC have not been offering a reason to stay around. Labour Day weekend always takes me to a great friend's cottage and therefore I was not at yesterday's home versus New England game. I had hoped to watch the game on my ipad, but putting the game on Sportsnet 360 and leaving the main network for darts (thanks Rogers) meant that I had to listen to the game on the radio.
You did not need the visuals to grasp that it was a disaster. TFC was clobbered by the New England Revolution 3-0, which is no way to handle a team that is competing for your playoff spot. For all of the disasters of TFC over the years, Toronto had never lost to New England when at home prior to this season. In 2014 now, it has happened twice. When was the last time you heard Toronto fans chant "this is our house"? It just isn't anymore. 
I have avoided pouring my exasperation into demanding that Nelsen and Bez be shown the door, but the exasperation is rising. Now it seems that Nelsen and Bez are sniping at each other and I am tempted to say a plague on both of your houses. The big boss Tim Leiweke is on the way out of the MLSE door and you have to wonder how many weeks 
Before the game Bez (Tim Bezbatchenko) had expressed his opinion that the team 
had the talent but it was time to raise their games. On one hand the TFC fan is very likely
to agree with his view that on the brink of September it is time to start grabbing results. It is self serving, Bez essentially saying that the GM has chosen the right players, time for the coach to motivate them.

After yesterday's loss Coach Nelsen was critical of Bez's statement to the media, he felt that it had increased pressure on his players. These two need to schedule a meeting - today. Not that the solution to this tailspin is that simple, didn't the Big Tim Leiweke meet with the team recently and give them a supportive speech about the foundation and the future? 

Nelsen is so protective of his players that I am suspecting it gets in the way of his motivating them. Combine that with his "late to the party" substitution patterns and his troubles with creating either a tactical sense of defending or a creative sense of attacking and you have a coach on thin ice. His survival depends on a playoff berth. Should he fall short of that, I would speculate that firing Nelsen would either be the last action of Tim Leiweke or the first action of the next guy.

The trading and signing deadline for the MLS is just days away. A move is critical, but a big move is not expected. Although Toronto has a few international spots on the roster, I am just not sure that a trade or a free agent signing is going to change the course of this playoff drive. 
Toronto FC has a home and away series with Philadelphia Union this week and the playoff drive could fly or flop within these upcoming days. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Job done, road travelled, crew subdued - Columbus Crew 2 Toronto FC 3

Toronto defeated the Columbus Crew for the third time in the 2014 season. I am not going to head to the TFC archives just now, but I suspect that it is the first time an opponent has been beaten three times by Toronto in a year. It was TFC's ninth victory and it is more than a little satisfying to calculate that a third of those victories were against Columbus. Can we play them every week?

It was not a masterpiece. Gritty efforts on the road are not very often things of beauty. TFC began the game with plenty of attack, but no finish. Columbus would counter from time to time and they just missed scoring off of a header by Bedell.
Late in the first half Luke Moore sent Gilberto in on the Crew keeper and his left foot put the ball into the net. However late in the half a murky penalty was awarded on a hand ball call in the box and Higuain scored the penalty.
The second half was more of a rollercoaster. Toronto had periods of smooth attack followed by sections of clunky defending. Osorio scored the second goal off of a rebound from a Luke Moore shot. Toronto allowed a goal curling in from distance that I thought Joe Bendik should have claimed and handled.
The winning goal was Luke Moore's finest moment in a TFC uniform so far. From a Warner corner kick, Moore sped past his cover and dove to head the ball into the corner behind his progress.
Columbus was done.
This victory puts Toronto into third place, 4 points ahead of 4th place Philly and 5 points behind 2nd place DC (grrrr- even a point from that night would have made a difference).
Next weekend will be the last in the stretch of road games, TFC visits Sporting Kansas City. My hopes are not high, but the pattern of playing only one game a week seems to have settled the team down.
Until then...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

That's more like it!!! Montreal 0 Toronto FC 2

TFC looked like a team today in Montreal. They had had a poor second half in Washington DC this past Wednesday and had recently been frustrating fans (and this blogger) for weeks. We had reached the point in the season when it was reasonable to expect progress and instead we were seeing individual efforts, a lack of scoring finish and often a group of players who looked like they had just met for the first time seconds before the game started.
Today it was Montreal that looked incoherent. Jermaine Defoe is injured (no details yet) and did not start or play today. A constant concern of TFC 2014 is that Defoe is the sole provider of goals. Today that worry was banished from view. Against Montreal both strikers, Gilberto and Luke Moore, scored goals and such was Toronto's dominance it is a surprise that only the two goals were scored.
The TFC central midfield of Bradley and Warner were strong, Montreal had the hardest time keeping up with them in the second half.  Both were controlling the ball well, showing a greater sense of where their teammates were and shutting down Montreal's attack.
Oduro, so often blazing down the wing was instrumental in both goals. Osorio on the left was hardly playing the role of a winger, but his more central role meant more room for left back Justin Morrow. Morrow continues to be the unsung hero of the team.
It was an incredibly young central defending pair of Nick Hagglund and Doneil Henry and both were quality. Late in the game Hagglund was so close to scoring a goal off of a corner he must be still shaking his head in wonder at the opportunity missed (and the combo of Perkins' touch and the crossbar).
Warren Creavalle showed why he was a wise acquisition for Toronto recently in the allocation trade with Houston. His play at rightback was solid. He had some challenges in the first half on the defending end, but his speed and passing confidence going forward has been a contribution that has made the loss of Mark Bloom to injury just a little easier to take.

Is it all sunshine and lollipops? Concerns include the extent of the Defoe injury, the continued late and puzzling substitutions of Coach Nelsen, the ability of MLS refs to slight TFC on a regular basis and get away with it and
Two road games ahead in early August. Next weekend in Columbus and Kansas City the weekend after that. Today's win puts TFC into third place. At the time of blogging it is unclear whether  fellow third place teams at the start of the day, New England and/or Columbus, can keep pace (New England is winning v NYRB and Columbus does not start v Chicago until later). Stay tuned.