Saturday, October 25, 2014

TFC inadequate again as season 2014 ends - New England 1 Toronto FC 0

....lingering headache.

What a stinking mess. I am afraid to find out what the tv ratings for this last TFC 2014 game were. I did wonder a few times who else was foolish enough to be watching this...

It was typical TFC that the New England goal was scored when the assistant ref flagged for offside, a clear offside, and the ref did not call play.

Yet did the injustice inspire TFC to get back into the game? Not a chance. This is a team that had ended their season weeks ago. Look at the squad and their dynamic for the final month of the season. TFC had five games in October - 4 losses and a tie - allowing 9 goals and scoring 2.

Even falling behind by one fluky, undeserved goal was enough to sink TFC. Look at the individuals on the field trying to score a goal.
Collen Warner did not score a goal all year. Kyle Bekker did not score one either. Sure Daniel Lovitz is a rookie, a call-up from Wilmington in May, but he did not score a goal in 2014 in MLS. Gilberto and Bradley seemed disconnected. Oduro and Bloom have yet to become a cohesive pairing.

No wonder New England was taking it easy, avoiding injuries, subbing off their stars and thinking about the playoffs ahead. TFC spun their wheels, Bradley distributed from a distance and his accuracy was poor. At least he was passing better than Caldwell and Henry, but the fact that they had the ball at their feet for any time at all is an indication of how little attack was being generated

The announcers (Nigel Reed and Greg Sutton) danced around the concepts of "wholesale changes" versus "keeping a core together" as the recipe for TFC 2015. I feel their pain as they had to fill the airwaves with something, but what a pointless debate.
If keeping a core is the expected return of Bradley, Bendik, Morrow, probably Gilberto and Caldwell, possibly Luke Moore, then a core will be kept.
If wholesale changes is using your four first round draft picks, filling all of your vacant International roster spots and replacing those you lose and those you send away, then wholesale changes it is.

Coach Vanney tried to play a 4-3-3 and deserves some credit for the effort and energy shown in the first half. That alone does not make him my choice for coach in 2015.

So the season is over and the long offseason begins. TFC are my team, but they are still a stinking mess. I feel that the way to retain some hope is to salute the fans. Watching the game on tv reminded me of one thing - they play that Bacardi commercial enough that it sticks in your head...

Fate threw everything at the TFC fan base.

The firing of Ryan Nelsen in 2014 couldn't stop us.

Nor could a series of earthquakes.

From Prohibition in the 1920s

and then the Cuban Revolution in the 1950's.

The TFC fan base did not just survive, we thrived

Perhaps I got some of the script wrong. This is not goodbye. I expect that the days ahead will provide plenty of material. I have yet to write even a sentence about Jermaine Defoe's mother!!!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Toronto FC 1 Montreal Impact 1 - the last chapter in the "Why can't we be great?" year of double Tims

The last TFC home game of 2014 and there is just too much information to sort through for one blog post.

Reflections on the season.

Analysis of the game itself.

Ideas on where this team needs to go next (in player terms, not geographical terms).

Anger amongst the fans.

I will stick with analysis of the game itself, but watch out. Other notions are bound to invade my little mind. Which makes the act of writing my blog sound like it's part of a military operation. By the way, I will be on am740 Sunday morning at 9, although I am not sure how much TFC talks I can squeeze into a busy show.

Today it was TFC without Defoe (returning groin injury), Bradley (accumulation of yellow cards) and Hagglund (suspension following red card in New York game). Toronto entered the game still in playoff contention, admittedly in the long shot category (winning two remaining games combined with Columbus losing two remaining games would put Toronto into a tie for fifth place, which is the last playoff spot). Yet somehow the feeling in the air at game time was somewhere well below joyous. You did not want Montreal to thrash us - but you did not think Toronto was capable of thrashing anyone either. Please, let's eke out a win and save the full miracle for the game on the road in New England.
So game on and there were segments of the first half where Toronto looked strong. They were moving forward and the passing was crisp. Warren Creavalle scored the Toronto goal on a volley off of a high blooping ball into Montreal's box. He fooled the Montreal keeper and put it away. At the time Toronto was on the rise and you felt that scoring goals was going to be easy-peasy today.
Then the transmission seemed to grind to a halt and Montreal scored a goal by holding onto the ball and waiting for an unguarded Impact player (Felipe) to arrive in the perfect spot.

So reaching half time 1-1 created a wary feeling. All TFC had to do was win one half of football and their playoff hopes would continue until at least the Sunday Columbus result.

It was not to be. Montreal was reduced to 10. TFC's Osorio was shown red. Montreal was reduced to 9. Heck, you could have tied a potato sack around the lower half of the Impact keeper, Toronto could not score. They could not end their final home game, their game against their derby rival Montreal, their last game with playoff implications with a one goal victory. Sums up the year, donut? Why did they take off Creavalle in the second half? He was contributing and what did we get from Jackson in the last 20 minutes?

Thoughtful fans around me in section 220 felt that if you put aside the rash promise of a playoff spot, it was a year of progress and quality. Therefore it was a reasonable step to renew and be back for 2015.
I am renewing too, but am not quite so charitable. Toronto Football Club continues to lack the royal jelly, the special sauce, the winner's mentality. Have they laid a foundation? Possibly. I would rather enter 2015 with Michael Bradley than without, but beyond him the midfield is a mess. Osorio, Bekker and Warner have all fallen short in the middle of the park. Sticking with the midfield, if Jackson and Oduro are Toronto's wingers for 2015, include me out.
Caldwell, Hagglund, Morrow are a solid defending unit. I am guessing that Mark Bloom will find himself in Orlando, Doneil Henry will get an European opportunity and Bradley Orr will not have his loan extended.
If Defoe stays, Gilberto goes. If Gilberto stays, Defoe goes. Luke Moore leverages his decent Toronto play into a return to the UK in the January transfer window. Hello Jordan Hamilton
Remember that Toronto has 4 first round picks in the January 2015 MLS College draft. They might lose at least one player to New York and Orlando expansion draft. Then again they might pick up a player from the Chivas USA dispersal. Heck, I said I was sticking to game analysis and here I go headlong into the areas of where does TFC go from here.

If you read this blog regularly, I thank you. If you care about the team that I love, thanks too. If you feel that this is a game that lifts your heart some days and crushes your soul on others, join the club. It hurts to think that I will not be in my stadium watching my team until May, more than six months away. I promise to blog through the off season. I feel that I can't stop now, the fun is only starting. Take care and dream big. One more TFC 2014 game and it's in New England. Until then....

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Just about done....New York Red Bulls 3 Toronto FC 1

Time after time, this Toronto team has found a way to lose their way.

What is left to say about this cursed team?

Individuals with talent, but rarely a team.

Hagglund was red carded, so he misses the Montreal game next weekend. Bradley was given a yellow for arguing the call with the ref, so he misses next game due to accumulated yellows.

All fans who think that Jermaine Defoe has already left Toronto raise your hand...

I will attend the Montreal game next weekend, mainly because suffering is what I do best.

Thanks for reading, stay tuned.

I will be on the Naz and Wally sports hour tomorrow morning at nine on AM740 Zoomer Radio. So I need sleep.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Passing the biggest test of 2014 Toronto FC 3 Portland Timbers 2

I bought a bootleg scarf to show that I am back on the Defoe bandwagon...
This one snuck up on me.

The week prior to this game was packed with distractions.
Distraction #1 -the invite to season seat holders to see the expansion plans for the stadium
(So pleased to have missed it. Accounts of the evening indicated that posters were up, information was scarce and a lot of cheese was offered.).
Distraction #2 - the ceremony the same day for the groundbreaking for stadium expansion (shovels hit the ground, sad to report that none were swung at politician Mark "Argos get in for free" Grimes).
Distraction #2 The return of the Jermain Defoe show.
On one hand he is telling stories to protect his pay cheque. On the other, his credence goes up in my eyes when I focus on one of his main claims "How seriously do you take Harry Redknapp"?

So I was letting the week slip by me. I did not think about the proximity of the Saturday game until I had to face the transportation horror. The Gardiner Expressway is closed for the weekend.

Forget travel tales, I took the GO and arrived early...
Game time
Within seconds of start a sliding collision at the centre line between Mark Bloom and Will Johnson halted play. Johnson was stretchered off and reports after the game indicated that he had suffered a broken leg.
It lifted Portland and shook Toronto. Nick Hagglund gave the ball away. Timbers score.. In Portland they salute the scoring of a goal with the slicing of a huge log. Here "by the lake" we salute  Toronto falling behind early with the slightest of sighs. Okay, maybe the deepest of sighs.
Then Portland scored again. Our defenders were floundering a little and a swift pass and poke made it two goals Portland.
It was stunning. A young fan nearby (a grade school kid)  shouted out "Wake up you Reds". He had the right idea. A goal from Toronto FC was called back on an offside. I would have to see it again. I did not think that the goal scorer was offside, but Osorio was in an offside position and blocked a defender from getting back into the play. So the call could have been that the team had benefitted from a player in an offside position.
Halftime arrives with Toronto down by two and rallies have not been part of TFC this year (or any year?). You felt that the season was slipping away. Toronto could bounce back from a home defeat, win the last 5 games in a row, and land a playoff spot

Nick Hagglund scored twice, erasing his error in the early going and making him a hero by the lake. Then the soccer gods, those heavenly bodies who have been toying with us for years, intervened. Michael Bradley had a direct free kick a good distance out. He hammered it into the box, flying it into the prime spot for a glancing header. Ricketts, the Portland keeper of great size, moved to his right in seeming anticipation of that glancing change in direction. Then it did not happen. Nobody got their head to the ball. No change in flight. Ricketts out of position. The ball bounced into the net. Toronto had gone ahead. Joy erupted.
First half = despair and resignation, Second half = determination and victory.

A big win. Even bigger when it loomed as a big loss for much of the afternoon.

With only October remaining in the MLS schedule, we will soon know if it was part of the glorious end of the season or a false hope. 5 games remain, two in Toronto (Houston and Montreal) and three on the road (LA, NY and New England). 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

At last - a TFC team finding its stride OR At last - TFC finds a feeble opponent TFC 3 Chivas USA 0

Section 220 salutes the Naz and Wally Sports Hour on am740
It was a day of contrasts....

The weather forecast had predicted rain all day. A huge morning thunderstorm had TFC fans expecting the worst for the afternoon.
Game time weather was blue skies and soft sunshine, a few fluffy clouds dotted throughout the sky. Perhaps the nicest weather TFC has experienced in the city all year.

TFC looked like a team. They seemed to be anticipating one another, moving off of the ball with skill and intelligence and creating opportunities. Instead of suffering through those games where it seemed that TFC could not sustain possession, today they owned the ball. Kept defensive positioning too. Joe Bendik was never really tested.

Yet, we should not forget that Chivas USA is a team on the ropes. Of their last 10 games, in 9 of them they have been held scoreless. It appears that MLS will not find an owner for this Los Angeles orphan team in the near future and could be putting the team into storage for the 2015 season. They looked like guys who had nothing to play for and were wondering who they would be playing for in 2015. Will MLS have a dispersal draft? Seems strange that you would have an expansion draft and a dispersal draft in the same span of time.

Jackson, Toronto's Brazilian winger, displayed the first touch skills that he has been lacking for much of 2014. He scored the first Toronto goal and dominated his side of the field. He was smooth and energetic on the ball and did not neglect his defensive duties either. He may have been playing his best game in a Toronto uniform.

Jackson, Toronto's Brazilian winger, the player that Dallas fans warned us was always on the brink of a red card, picked up a red card. He was having such success down the left wing in the second half that he drew a double team and felt that one of the Chivas players had caught him in the head. He took the first opportunity to go in high and hard against Nigel Reo Coker of Chivas (I think Jackson felt Reo Coker had fouled him). I saw Reo Coker make contact with his right hand against the side of Jackson's head. I suspected that Jackson was red carded for the reckless tackle, but other reports had him striking Reo Coker.
Michael Bradley had no downside today. He was the spine of the team, his passing was strong and his positioning excellent on the defensive side. He played well back, the deepest of deep midfielders. Sometimes hanging back to gather the ball, but often slipping back into a back four role.

This game was the one that simply had to be a victory or you could put playoff dreams to bed.
The Portland game next Saturday is yet another must win....
TFC 2014 is now 3 home games (Portland, Houston and Montreal) and 3 road games (LA, New York and New England). Finish the year with a winning streak and I think the playoffs are a lock. Scanning the reports of Sports Club Stats , the site that tells you your team's chances of making the playoffs,  it looks like 3 wins and 3 losses may put TFC short of a playoff spot. It seems that winning 4 and losing 2 would put them in. Cross those fingers now. I am honestly not sure which is the harder task ahead. Winning all three at home or winning 1 out of 3 on the road. Come back Jermaine Defoe , all is forgiven...

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.