Sunday, October 4, 2015

One point short of the promised land Toronto FC 3 Philly Union 1

It was a dark and stormy eve down by the lake on a fierce Saturday, the first Saturday of October. Where did the summer go? Only minutes ago I was sitting in my seat and the CNE was swirling around us. The Philadelphia game felt as if it were played in November weather.
The HMS Toronto FC had all hands on deck and Captain Bradley, on every t-shirt, was on patrol.
Forgive the nautical theme, but the strong winds and bouts of rain were enough to tip my account into watery tale territory. Lake Ontario was providing winds that made travelling with poutine across the south end platform an adventure. All the beer booth staff in that area looked like they were going to be dislodged and hurled into the seating. It was perhaps (crossing of fingers inserted here) a sneak preview of playoff weather.

Ok, so the captain of the team is also a midfield general and Bradley was the name of a prominent US general during WW II. But don't ask me about the prominent right digit finger. I am a fan of cartoon images, but don't you feel that the cartoonist hired by TFC has no understanding of the game these athletes play...

 I admit that I was nervous at the start of the game. The consequences for losing this one was just too staggering for my little brain to take. The Seba Giovinco goal (his 21st) came early enough that you could see the confidence  build for the Reds. Toronto always seemed to have the possession advantage and the shot advantage too (off target though they may have been).

 It was satisfying to watch TFC take care of business. Yes, the Union staggered into town, exhausted from their loss in the US Cup and many of their starters resting. Yet, TFC got the job done with room to spare.
Jackson had a solid game. I like the way he uses his speed and anticipation to break up plays. That alone does not ensure you a spot on the TFC roster, Warren Creavalle was quite good at that too. Jackson was paired with Findley in the first half and Delgado in the second. A Delgado cross created the Altidore goal. Jozy Altidore gets credit for a fine finish, but we also have to note the foolish defending by Philadelphia on that series.

I am often griping that Osorio is not a true winger, but he shut me up, especially late into the second half when he was a terror down the left. The Marquez own goal was just the reward for Osorio's determination and skill getting the ball into the box. May this late game strength trend continue.
Cheyrou was his silky smooth self on the ball and sneaky tough in his tackling. Michael Bradley, on General Bradley t-shirt day, gave a spotlight worthy performance. Cheyrou is the secret ingredient in the Bradley success. Cheyrou gives Bradley the confidence to go forward and make a difference.

The Philly Union goal was scored by Steven Vitoria. I know it is a knee-jerk reaction to see every MLS player with a Canadian passport as a future acquisition... but I was impressed. In the first half it seemed that TFC were attempting to get Giovinco away from Vitoria's side of the field.

I don't want to head into the critical last three games of TFC season 2015 with my fan meter twisted far closer to faith over reason. Yet questions, those questions that seem to dance around the cranium of the seasoned TFC supporter, still hang in the air...
Can TFC find the one point needed to best Orlando for a playoff spot?
Can TFC make a true run at finishing 3rd or 4th spot to host their first playoff game?
Can Toronto FC find another gear when faced with teams above them in the standings?

NYRB, Crew and Montreal is a tough trio of opponents to finish off the schedule with. The Red Bulls will have the Supporter's Shield to play for, Columbus could prove to be the qualifying game to determine whether TFC hosts or visits for their historical first playoff game and the Montreal game could be do or die. At least a point from each game would be an accomplishment, nine points from these last games could qualify as a miracle.
If I were an Orlando fan, (facing NYCFC at home and then Philly on the road) I would be betting that six points is theirs for the taking. Toronto has two traditions, being completely out of playoff contention and having a chance but letting it slip through their fingers. Time for a new tradition and the October 14th game vs Red Bulls will be the clearest indication of which way TFC are heading. Until then...

Monday, September 21, 2015

Rapid return to pop and bite, can it continue? TFC 3 Colorado 1

A blur at the far end, Perquis just after scoring
First off, apologies for this days later post concerning the Saturday game. I am one of those older guys who still attends music festivals and this past weekend was the third TURF festival at Fort York - Garrison Commons. TFC game started at 2pm - Lucinda Williams on stage at 4:10, I had to be in two places at once. Due to weather concerns I did not have my tablet with me and therefore did not share my TFC thoughts while grooving to tunes.

I am going to be one of those guys - when their team loses it is due to deep flaws on HIS team. When their team wins it is due to deep flaws on the opposing team. The Colorado Rapids looked awful in the first half on Saturday. The first Seba Giovinco goal was the perfect example. He picks up the ball near the midfield stripe and no Rapid is tracking back or defender moves to close him down. This continues as Giovinco strides forward. He actually had the time and space to slow down, look around and consider his options as he approached the box.  Just what were the Rapids thinking? Give the Atomic Ant enough time and space and he will score. Same with goal two. It was nice to see Damien Perquis score his first (non-own) goal of the season. I do think he gets too much criticism. Sure, he is on the hook for some defending mistakes. That is the price you pay for plying your trade in the heart of the battlefield.
So, we fans have to be ultra pleased / relieved with the win. Continuing the losing streak could have been a disaster of playoff struggle, coach questions and player turmoil.
I don't yet trust TFC 2015 to claim that the Colorado victory will act as a springboard for the weeks ahead. I am concerned with the next two games- home against Chicago and Philly. Two victories are required for any shot at hosting the knockout playoff game. They have to be foot to the floor style wins to gather that season end momentum. The Red Bull game on Oct. 14th could be the toughest test of the year. The Columbus Crew game that follows it will be a proto-playoff game. I just don't want to be in the spot of TFC needing some points from the season ender in Montreal.

I had tried to justify the loss to New England by thinking that the Revs and the Red Bulls were rising to the top two spots in the East and were just too tough for Toronto. Then, this weekend, Montreal beat New England 3-0. Sure, it is the Drogba effect and Montreal have a tough schedule ahead of them. Still they worry me.

Until the next game, keep the grey and red flying...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

No pop, no bite, no style, no grace, no hope, no bench, no coach, no goals - NYCFC 2 TFC 0

"If future seasons involve increasing games vs TFC, we can play to 50"

TFC just look terrible in Yankee Stadium tonight (mostly in the attacking third). You felt that Altidore and Osorio would never score again this season based on their sloppy play in NYC. Bradley was all wild effort and NYCFC muscle Giovinco again and again.
I thought that last home game Bradley was missing Cheyrou. Cheyrou was back tonight, but it seemed to make no difference. Defending and goal keeping are ok. TFC takes care of business in their own end most of the time. The problem is that the attack does not deliver and that is what they get the big bucks for...
What was the point of putting Gomez and Moore on late in the game? No attacking spark was provided. Was Perquis put out as a late sub to take down a few numbers and crunch a few toes? Will Kantari get into trouble for that smack to the face (of Angelino?)?

I might take the view in the morning that NYCFC have become Toronto's bogey team. The team we just can't beat.

More likely that I will still be stunned that a new expansion team (with a trio of old stars, Villa did not play tonight) has beaten TFC twice and drew them once.

It is hard to be optimistic about playoff spots when you can't imagine winning against anyone. I can imagine that the teams out of the playoff picture see the faltering TFC as vacating a playoff spot to them. A three game losing streak was not what September was supposed to bring.

Tim B. and Vanney had better align their "must win game" comments for Saturday. If the hopeless streak hits 4 - look out.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Wondering if lacklustre is a harsh enough term for this sad display? TFC 1 New England Revolution 3

Photo by Evy - from Toronto FC fans Facebook page

TFC managed to match the crappy September weather with a low pressure display against New England.
How could New England make the most of a handful of scoring opportunities while Toronto blustered and blew? It was an afternoon of watching TFC squander scoring chances. They just don't look like a team on the rise (or a team on the steady).
Could they be suffering from a lack of urgency or too much of the stuff?
It is also becoming clear that subs off the bench add zero, TFC never has another gear.
Toronto looked second best all day long.
That was a big game against a New England team only three points ahead of TFC in the standings. Remember all those home games in September and October that were going to help the playoff push?
Today was game 1 of that season end home game bonanza. Forgive me for the rainy day gloom, but today did not look like a home stretch bonanza to me.

A bounce back from this solid loss is possible. They could win the next three and end September on a high. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that New England is very capable of finishing in a top two spot and dust ourselves off. Sleep calls - more tomorrow

Monday, September 7, 2015

Late Night West Coast strange brew Seattle 2 TFC 1

Forgive me. It is days later and I am still trying to wrap my head around the TFC news from the Labour Day weekend. Jozy Altidore scores two goals for the USA in a friendly on the same weekend that Toronto FC lose by one goal to Seattle? Clint Dempsey scores the winning goal for Seattle? Am I crazy to think that somebody needs to be grilling the Garber man on this mess.  The need for MLS to align their schedule to the FIFA international schedule only grows with the years.

I did not watch this game live. Since I am lucky enough to have a Labour Day traditional get away (thanks to great friends and their wonderful Kawartha Highlands cottage) I had updates passed along from the family member with cell phone service. I blame my almost radio silence on my Labour Day memories of 2014. TFC alerts and the Nelsen firing and Tim Bez press conferences had my tech devices buzzing away. Getting away to the cottage 2014 had meant skipping that home game (remember Bez's must win game?), the 3-0 loss to New England that so many described as Toronto's worst. All these jumbled memories contributed to deciding that 2015 cottage weekend was going to be info-tech free. Sun and rocks, swimming and beer, chips and laughter, tequila nights under the Milky Way. You came to this blog expecting soccer talk?

Now back home and with highlights and some pvr time, I can tell you this.
TFC were missing - Altidore (international duty), Giovinco (injury taking away his international duty), Morrow (family), Cheyrou (injury), Perquis (injury), Jackson (injury) and Warner (league suspension).
That's two designated players and a handful of starters wiped off the board. It makes you wonder why did TFC bother to have Michael Bradley skip his US duty? Then you read that Bradley is joining Altidore in Chicago for the Tuesday night US friendly vs Brazil. I suppose Capt. Bradley gone for one game is potentially safer than gone for two.

The TFC starters out in rainy Seattle were...
Gomez       Moore         Findley
Morgan Osorio Bradley Delgado
  Simonin Williams Zavaletta

On the bench Bendik, Chapman (subbed in for Gomez at 74), Kantari(?), Hamilton (subbed in for Simonin at 81), Mannella.

I am not usually one to give credit for a close loss on the road. No points from a game in September is going to be a concern in the crowded playoff picture. Yet, with the long trip west behind them, TFC face a season end of 6 home games, and road trips to New York City and Montreal. If the reasoning for the strange alignment and playing depth players was to ensure a fully rested and healthy lineup for the home game next weekend against New England, we fans are all for it. That next home game is huge for TFC. It could help determine whether Toronto is making an October run for a top Eastern playoff spot or scrambling.
Coach Greg Vanney post-game 
Vanney arrives at the Labour Day weekend I'm sure with unique memories of 2014. His cell phone must have been buzzing with more than just scores and news.  A job offer and a press conference invite. One year under Vanney and you don't want to jinx anything by saying that TFC look a year ahead, but in so many ways they do. Giovinco in the place of awol Jermain Defoe is the largest example. There are plenty more (Cheyrou in place of Bradley Orr is my fave).  This rapidly approaching New England home game is Vanney's chance to fully establish his grip on TFC 2015. It needs to be the reverse of Nelsen's last game as TFC coach. A solid victory in Toronto will have all of us forgetting what the Seattle result was and have Vanney in the driver's seat for the playoff push and beyond. A disaster against the Revolution will have the critics wondering just how far Vanney has taken the team.

I can't wait for this rare Sunday game ahead. Just keep Tim Bezbatchenko away from any "must win" statements to the press this week and keep thinking red and grey...

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Let's go to the Ex! Toronto FC 2 Montreal Impact 1

Photo Credit - ZippyR
It was one of those victories that you'll take in a heartbeat. TFC had sections of play were they looked confident and coordinated. They also had a ton of luck on their side. There were too many times when Montreal seemed to be messing up goal scoring opportunites, rather than TFC shutting them down. Recalling 2014 and how many times Oduro could not finish his chances for TFC had us smiling as he continued to mess and miss for Montreal. When he did score late, the thought crossed my mind that the next time Toronto meets Montreal they could be facing Didier Drogba. He could make a huge difference (as would the return of Piatti).
You have to be concerned however that TFC did not finish strong against a Montreal side that was down to ten men AND had lost probably their best defender.

But time to look on the bright side. TFC goal #1 - Osorio to Bradley as they slip a goal by the keeper. TFC goal #2 - This time Bradley to Osorio who thumped one off the cross bar and full marks to Jozy Altidore who turned the rebound into a goal.
Some worrying moments - Cheyrou off with injury, Giovinco off with injury and even Lovitz off for Morgan (injury or tactical?). Then the hanging on at the end - some ghosts of TFC past were hovering in the air.

So that was the final game of August and TFC are in a tie for fourth place with New England. A Red Bulls hosting DC game on Sunday is only going to change the points of teams ahead of Toronto.
Looking back on the months of 2015 so...
March - 3pts from 3 games
April - 3pts from 3 games
May - 10 pts from 5 games
June -  7 pts from 4 games
July - 4pts from 4games
August - 9pts from 6 games

9 games left in the season. To have a better than 50% chance of finishing in 2nd place (and therefore being assured of missing the first round playoff knockout game), TFC would have to finish with 54 points or better (currently 37)
5 games in September (Road Seattle - Home New England - Road NYCFC - Home Colorado Chicago)
4 games in October (Home Philadelphia NYRB Columbus - Road Montreal)
I can see points coming out of September - perhaps even duplicating May and getting 10 points from the 5 games. October looks tough though. If TFC are chasing 2nd place, no better way than actually facing NYRB and Columbus, the two other teams most likely to be battling for that spot.
If I had to predict right now I would say TFC are a playoff team but finishing second seems just a step beyond them. They can really only afford two losses in the rest of the season. On the road in Seattle next weekend may determine expectations. Seba Giovinco will head in the other direction, his callup to the Italian team takes him away for the Labour Day weekend.

I will miss having the EX going on all around the stadium at the next game. The weather was perfect, if winds and temperature were your concern. The skies did become dull as the game wore on, but rain was avoided.
Next home game is New England Sept.13....until then - think red and grey...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

TFC fans given a break from suffering TFC 5 Orlando City 0

TFC supporters have suffered long, hard and deeply. There are too many times when I wouldn't have it any other way. My credentials as a suffering fool/fan are proudly worn. They give my the high ground when observing the bandwagon breezes that buffet our areas sports scene (media and "fans" alike).

If I could I would weave every blog post around my all time favourite Nick Hornby quote.
The natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score.
It is a fair observation that the bitter disappointment of such summer escapades as those crushing losses in Los Angeles, Foxboro and New Jersey were not forgotten in the euphoria of yesterday's trouncing of Orlando City.

TFC's second half yesterday was terrific, exciting,  yet exploitive (c'mon, Orlando City had problems holding TFC down earlier in August with 11 men in purple and no Bradley or Altidore. OC reduced to ten, then nine AND Altidore coming on as a sub with his offensive slump the number 1 concern of fan and player alike?). The first half may not have been a fully equal battle, but it did stay 0-0 to the half and Orlando sure looked capable of tussling along. A game plan of negating TFC and hoping for a Kaka late flash of brilliance was not farfetched. TFC land was smiling at the end of the game, but at half time the game/season hung in the balance.

An Orlando aside, Kaka on Toronto's field did not look like a happy camper or a captain. His willingness to complain all afternoon to his team mates just looked too much like Jermain Defoe@TFC circa 2014. Yes, Mr. Kaka, you are 77 times more talented than your fellow players. Yet a large part of your job, as it is a team game, is to bring out the best in others while continuing your own top level contributions. Yapping and gesturing at your own team is just going to turn them off and make your own job harder. The easiest stance to take in soccer is to second guess. You can be a demanding brute in practice, but in games you have to spread around some butter if you want your team to make sandwiches. The thought I had, when he was substituted in the second half, was that part of the reason for the move might have been to protect him from the anger of his fellow players.

TFC next plays Montreal next Saturday. A fear of a competitive Impact team WITH the addition of Didier Drogba hangs in the air. I loved hearing that Drogba will make his Montreal debut this Wednesday night in Vancouver in the second and deciding leg of the Canadian Championship. Please tire him out Whitecaps. TFC needs to start against Montreal as if they were still trouncing Orlando. Full fire power required.

Until then, thinking every day about the Red and the Grey...

Last week TFC dominated by NYRB, this week TFC dominate Orlando (ten men, then nine), happy it happened, but perspective maintained...til next Saturday