Sunday, March 30, 2008

Springtime in Columbus - season opener 2008

I completed my first TFC road trip this weekend. I traveled with a good friend and fellow season ticket holder. He's a fan I have previously called Craven Cottage for his love of Fulham, but he is in search of a new name as his team teeters on the brink of relegation from the EPL.
The drive is a long uneventful one as the snow vanishes and the state troopers abound. I think I have never spent so much of my time in the USA strictly observing the speed limits. We set off at 5am Saturday morning and crossed at Fort Erie / Buffalo. Conditions were good, traffic scarce and light (no surprise when you start driving before dawn on a Saturday). At the border after giving the guard our destination and reason for going he asked "Is this the same league with "what's his Puss" ? Give Beckham credit for taking on America and hoping to raise the game's profile, but there are times when you wonder if anything can penetrate... There are sports fans on both sides of the border who take the attitude that they like what they like because they like it
It was fun to drive out of snowy winter landscapes into Ohio spring. Snow and ice are completely gone there, but the green has yet to arrive. Stopping rarely, only washrooms, gas refills and one hotel stop to ensure a room on the homeward segment, we arrived around 1:30 pm.
After a period of rest we picked up our tickets from Will Call and entered the stadium. Everyone on staff were excellent. Friendly talk and smiles and answers to our questions. I think that travelling support is still a novelty for most MLS venues. The usher for my section, 209, was especially personable. He helped Toronto fans with taking pictures and joked with them. He was also on top of any breaches of regulations. I had been so absorbed in the second half that I did not realize that I was standing on bench seats instead of the flooring. He gently, but firmly called me on it. Doing his job, but with a touch of courtesy.
The Crew Stadium is a soccer specific one, double decks on each side, capacity. I think it is less intimate than BMO, the field seems wider and the players appear to be remote. I was in the second deck on the east side and I would say that they lack the steep angle that makes the west side upper deck at BMO feel like you are on top of the play.
I am not fond of the end section designs. The north end has been renovated during this recent off-season and has been turned into a rock concert stage. It looks ugly and out of place, as if a car had crashed through the wall of your living room and you were trying to pass it off as an improvement. It gives off an impression of surrender, as if Columbus felt that they could not sell soccer tickets there, so let's try something else. It does their ultra supporters a disservice as it shunts them away from the action.
The south end is just as bad. A number of sections stretch across the ground beneath their big scoreboard and behind the section it's surrounded by a concrete plaza that leads to food and drink concessions. The biggest flaw is a huge awning across the front of the section that protects an eating area behind the net and below the section. It keeps the fans in the south end a huge distance away from the action. That this was a blessing considering the actions of the Toronto travelling contingent is the subject of my next post.
I am fussy about this idea of a restaurant living near a soccer pitch like Las Vegas tables in a performing area. I do not want to eat during a game. Before and after is just fine, but during the game I am so aware of soccer, the drama before me, that I am not hungry. Having a food section under the awning ( I think they call the area Party on the Pitch) would be a form of torture for me. Could you see the game properly ? Would I freak out as my concentration was broken by those around me ordering or eating or chatting ? Does Ohio have the death penalty ?

Although I am a huge fan of eyeing pretty women (you can ask my wife), I do think that the constant use of cheerleaders in pro sports is bewildering and often pointless. They rarely lead cheers in the college sports manner. They seem to be designed to give the venue a reason to play music and serve as a distraction to cover for the multiple television timeouts required. However, although Columbus cheerleaders are of this classic pro North American style (they are the Crewsers) , they are mercifully under -used. You see them for introductions , a little half time show and not much else. In the second half they were arrayed around the big concert stage as if they are doubling as security guards or roadies. When they first came onto the field in their full dozen or two formation at the start of the game, I was convinced that Columbus had more pom pommed Crewsers than singing and flag waving fans. However the Columbus goals and win seemed to magically inflate the supporters section. You can't knock that. Had Toronto won it would have worked the other way. Winners grow, the defeated shrink away.
We did not stay beyond the final whistle. It was fairly easy to make your way to the parking lot and we had parked strategically close to an exit. In minutes we were on the Interstate heading out of town. Toronto has a lot to learn about the need to get traffic away from a sports event quickly by closing a few roads and directing cars in a one way fashion.
It had been a long day and our strategy of stopping after a few hours of driving paid off big time. We were at our hotel in Richfield Ohio just as the sun was setting. I could blog, have a beer and a burger and watch sports on TV (Note to Holiday Inn Express - get HDNET and HD tv so that I could have seen Colorado play LA Galaxy).
I know that I will do the Ontario to Ohio road trip again. I would be happy to spend more time and money there. Next time I hope to get a chance to meet more Crew fans to gain some perspective on following MLS for all the years as we Toronto folks are playing catch -up. Next time I hope we score on those rare (for TFC) penalty kicks. Next time will be next year and may we improve enough by then to win.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Columbus Crew 2 TFC 0

A quick report and some first impressions...
I travelled to Columbus today and was crushed to see TFC go down to defeat at the hands of the Crew. I don't think that there is any natural rivalry between the teams, we would rather squash Montreal and Michigan will always be the arch-rival of any team in Ohio. Still,The Crew is an important team to judge Toronto by. They must be caught if TFC is to become a playoff team in my lifetime.
So many of my fears after the struggles in Charleston during the pre-season tournament were confirmed. I thought that the new rookie keeper Edwards looked strong in net in his first start (other than the two goals - naturally). The defense was solid, one goal allowed came against the run of play and the other was a breakdown when TFC was pushing forward and Kevin Harmse passed back from the midfield and the Crew were better placed for it
Velez and Marshall worked well together as central defenders. I thought Wynne's time away from the team because of the Olympic tournament showed him to be a little disconnected from the team. I think that Brennan is better in the central role, not because of any lack when playing left back as he did today, but because he finds Robinson and Edu better from the middle of the field.
So much more to say, so let me break this report into a series....

Now let me enjoy my cold Bud in peace. I am licking my wounds (metaphorically, of course) in an Ohio motel, with a fair drive home ahead of me tomorrow.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Eve of season 2

As I messed around the house trying to pack for the road trip to Columbus tomorrow, I will admit that my thoughts were more practical than sport related. Where is that toothbrush was the central question. Who will play striker tomorrow for TFC did not creep into the considerations.
I will admit that I am nervous. The defeat against Charleston was only days ago. There is a rumbling discontent that Steven Brunt in the Globe and Mail mentioned the other day accurately in his column. What big off season move(s) did TFC produce that we fans can hang our optimism upon ? We hope that we did well in the draft, but every team participated and has the same hopes. We lost Pozniak and O'Brien from the midfield and gained Rosenlund and Harmse. Shall we say that the jury is still out on that exchange.
I may not be blogging from the road so look for my game and trip report on Sunday (unless I luck into a motel in Ohio that has an internet link).
May the sun shine tomorrow and I hope that the travelling sea of red witnesses something worth singing about.....

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Canada, the Faroe Islands of CONCACAF......

U23 qualifying semifinals for the Olympics took place in Nashville tonight. The final score was USA 3 Canada 0. TFC players involved were Maurice Edu and Marvell Wynne for the USA and Tyler Hemmings for Canada. Andrea Lombardo came on as a substitute in the second half and Josh Wagenner who recently had a trial with TFC was the Canadian keeper. Ok, I have had time to think about it. Faroe Islands have never finished third in any Uefa tourney. So it was a harsh reaction to just how hopeless things looked against USA.

I have to take back my comments regarding TFC's play in South Carolina. Seeing Edu and Wynne in action tonight was an electric reminder of how much talent those two have and judging the quality of Toronto's play without them is a fool's game. So that makes me the fool. Yes, Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore are the flashy strike force of the US attack, but Edu was always on the ball in behind them. He shows such poise directing traffic and feeding balls up to the front runners. Edu's great leap forward could be the key to TFC's success this year.
Marvell Wynne played a dazzling game. In the first half he was pressing forward from the back and he was the dominant player on USA's right flank. He played more defensively in the second half although I noted at least one run up to the inside of Freddy Adu that almost paid off.
On the Canadian side Tyler Hemmings played well. He was more of a factor in the second half, but it is so hard to attribute his play to anything other than the US playing well back and giving Hemming room to search in vain for a hole in their armour.

I am sure that I am not the only Toronto fan who let out an audible sigh when Andrea Lombardo was added to the Canadian attack. Tonight I officially fell off the Lombardo's " young and therefore could develop" wagon. Not that I was buckled in mind you. I will always be willing to be proven wrong on this as it will benefit TFC and Canada, but I don't see any creative vision or finishing talent there. When trying to run onto the ball he always seems to veer off in the direction the ball is never going to follow him to. His passes suffer the same fate and the less said about his shooting skills, the better.
So come Olympic time this summer TFC will lose two stars for a good stretch of time. Then again it would be a thrill to welcome them back to BMO with gold medals around their necks .....

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

a small step in the right direction

With a more coherent showing in South Carolina this evening, TFC managed to tie the New York Red Bulls 1-1 in the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, S. C. Both teams had stretches where they controlled the game, but there were few real opportunities for offensive fireworks.

Jeff Cunningham opened the scoring in the tenth minute of the first half. He used his timing and speed to run onto a ball passed up by Kevin Harmse and found himself alone with a keeper who failed to make much of a play for the ball. Kevin Harmse was active throughout the half, although sometimes his most energetic plays were those pursuing a ball that he had given away in the first place.
Colin Samuel came very close to adding another in the closing minutes of the half with a curling shot that seemed to just miss.

New York tied the game in the second half. Juan Pablo Angel is always dangerous for those Highpriced Energy Drinks and he helped to set up their goal. TFC never seemed to be a threat in the later stages of the game. Dicho and Jarrod Smith were late substitutions in the striker roles.

Brian Edwards played the entire game as TFC keeper. Despite a few shaky moments, he showed promise. We could easily see him as the Toronto starting keeper when Greg Sutton is off in World Cup qualifiers.

Julius James was injured in a collision in the first half and was replaced by Pat Phelan. Here's hoping that James did not suffer a serious injury. He had played well and Phelan was just as strong in relief. The qualities of these rookies is not a good sign for Andy Boyens. If the back four are Wynne, Marshall, Velez and Brennan, with both James and Phelan able to back up and Tyler Hemmings around too, is Boyens going to hang on ?

The midfield continues to miss Maurice Edu. Carl Robinson was always strong in defending and showed more precision in his passing when going forward. The search for an attacking midfielder continues. Not sure who is still on trial or still in camp but there were no Colombian players in evidence.

Next game- Saturday night against the host Charleston Battery

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

stay tuned for TFC signings

There has been a report from Ives Galercep ( that the signing of Amado Guevara by TFC is about to happen. Guevara is a former MLS MVP when playing in New York in 2004. Last year he refused a trade to Toronto from Chivas USA and returned to Honduras.

stay tuned for confirmation....

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Charleston, South Carolina on a small screen

San Jose 1 - TFC 0 ( I think a final score - weather delay due to lightning was the last part of the broadcast)

Is this a new team and a new season ? I think that the play of Toronto FC tonight in Charleston tried to convince me that it is year 1 extended. Last year's sour style, especially the ineffective midfield, was back. Toronto's attack, to be kind, was the dream of any keeper. Yes, Edu and Wynne were missing due to Olympic duty. I am a huge fan of both of those players, but the suspicion is that their return will not be enough to make the difference.
Bashing Mo Johnston has been a road that I wanted to stay away from. I think that it is too easy for the average fan to complain and second guess and nominate players that should be signed. I don't knock the knockers too much, it is what makes the internet hum. I submit that the reality of building a team is more complex than some fan voices are willing to concede. I wanted to rise above the din and look for signs of growth. A performance like tonight's does make rising above more of a challenge.

Mo's words last October at season end were a perfect blueprint for the future. TFC had a core but needed 6 or 7 new players. These words are starting to haunt him. Where are these needed 6 or 7 ? Time seems to be short if you look at the season starting in two weeks. The Mo plan may include signings that will arrive later in the season, but patience is wearing thin. If TFC struggles, it won't surprise me if the vocal fans start to serenade. Mo rhymes too easily with go......

Highlights (if you will)
The San Jose goal was set in motion by a Ronnie O'Brien corner. Somehow, we TFC fans saw that one coming.

It was wonderful to hear Nigel Reed calling the game. Too bad he interviewed the Charleston Battery Coach at length without a second mike. I could hear him, but he did sound like he was in another room.

Julius James looked like he fits in. Cool on the ball and I don't remember seeing him beat one on one. However I cannot be too sure of anything. I use a iMac and the streaming webcast was tiny. The USL site would not increase screen size and the CBC site was worse.
Pacheco seemed ok, Brittain and Dunivant both brought little to the attack on the flanks.
Samuel had a few moments when he came on in the second half, a nice cross in the box and went forward with energy. Then he dashes your hopes by finding a way to step on the ball and lose everything.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Kevin Harmse traded to TFC

TFC have traded a 4th round draft pick in 2009 for Kevin Harmse, a Canadian International who is a midfielder. Harmse is a defensive player and is not intended to play the role vacated by Ronnie O'Brien. Harmse was involved in some retaliation/protection of David Beckham when recent friendlies in Australia turned unfriendly. This explains his odd stance in the above pic. If he proves to be a contributing depth player, there is confidence that the next time he is pictured it will be in a more conventional playing pose. I do recall online chatter about Harmse last year, saying he is a West Coast guy (Vancouver) and therefore is not a fan of Toronto. With LA he was probably in heavy competition for his roster spot, so perhaps the greater security , in roster terms, in TFC land will sway his thinking. Then again, in the land of Mo, does anyone have roster confidence ?
With this trade on the heels of the Ronnie departure, Mo has turned the temperature on his hot seat down one notch. I know I am dating myself, but anyone else remember the old TV show called Sports Hotseat ??
The watch on signings to come continues...
Without taking into account factors such as allocation money and salary cap, someone on the U-Sector forum (SweetOwnGoal) figures that there are now four International spots on the TFC roster still available and four Canadian spots too. His calculations do not include later draft choices Brian Edwards, Mike Zahar, Xavier Balc and Jarrod Smith. So a full roster in time for the start of the season is not an unreasonable goal.