Saturday, May 31, 2008

TFC 2 LA 0

The arrival of Julius James has been a long time coming, but the first round draft pick of TFC last winter made sure that his delayed debut was a memorable one. The Toronto defense has become a tough line-up to crack and none of the fans have been complaining. The foursome of Marshall, Velez, Wynne and Brennan had been intact until the injury last Saturday in DC to Tyrone Marshall opened the door for Olivier Tebily. Tebily played centrally for the remainder of that game and continued in the contest against Montreal. Tebily picked up an injury in the first half today against LA and along comes James. He took a long shot from half that tested the LA keeper Cronin. Whether this was a flukey flyer or part of a master plan was hard to judge from my angle. It was a sign that good things were going to happen.
Early in the second half Julius James scored on a strong header in the box on a ball that was sent in by Rohan Ricketts from a dead ball situation. I cannot report whether it was a corner kick or a free kick, I suspect it was a free kick. Man, it was raining, people were streaming back to their seats and trying to wipe off these soaking seats. I had not budged throughout the half time, I seldom do. Yes, I am a hardcore purist and do not want to miss a minute of the game. Still I am not the tallest of fans in the upper deck so vision was obscured.
Is this the second time this year that a TFC rookie has scored on their debut ? I think that Jarrod Smith scoring in Los Angeles was also his first game in red.
Los Angeles without their stars Landon Donovan and David Beckham is not much of a team. It was a close game in the first half, but that must have been due to Toronto's patchwork line-up (Cunningham, SMith, Edu, Harmse, Ricketts, Dunivant as strikers and midfield ) that has enough strangers to each other to be far from the "gel" stage. The conditions were also a factor. The game started in a soft rain and it went into monsoon territory as the half ended.

The ref seemed ok for a while, but the yellow card against Maurice Edu was the start of his downfall. He seemed to buy it everytime a Galaxy player fell to the ground. Nothing as dramatic as the Columbus Crew performance of a few weeks ago, but it was a predictable parade.

Brian Edwards looked comfortable and confident. Greg Sutton has the number one job still, but Edwards is everything TFC would want in a number 2 keeper.

More to come...tune in later

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Montreal 0 TFC 1

Toronto FC squeezed out a victory in their first game of the Canadian Club Competition in Montreal tonight. The Montreal Impact deserve credit for an energetic effort ( Nigel Reed called them "lively") without quit even when they went down to ten men in the second half. As the game wore on the advantage in skill level to Toronto became more and more evident, notably in ball control and defensive prowess.

Marco Velez scored the goal from a free kick crossed into the box by Lauren Robert. Velez may have gotten away with one when he pushed a Montreal player who was in the penalty area in the early minutes of the game.

Just a few thoughts....

Jeff Cunningham and Rohan Ricketts suffer in a game like this. They have been struggling and if they continue to do so against USL competition, it is worrying for the fans. I am sure that it is worrying for them too. The sad view is after tonight, if you were managing a USL team would you want either of them. Let is hope that there are better games ahead.

Danny Dichio only played in the first half, was replaced by Jarrod Smith with only minutes to play. It seems that Dichio's groin injury is still a concern.

Robert continues to play with a minimum of hustle but style and timing. I think his fastest sprint was to challenge for a ball and get under the skin of Adam Braz. Once you saw Braz pushing Tebily in a corner kick set-up, you felt that Braz was going to erupt.

Now back to Toronto to await the arrival of LA on Saturday...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

DC United 3 Toronto FC 2 or how to lose what Dichio tried to give you

Road wins do not have to be pretty. (TFC proved last Wednesday night that home wins can be ugly too!) Saturday night, it seemed like ugly was all TFC had to offer, but there were many moments when they had hope and charm mixed in. We foolhardy fans started believing at half time that the Reds could clampdown on DC’s sputtering offense for a half and steal a road win. Dichio’s effort in the first half, two goals, had a sense of magic to it.

Although DC United displayed improved attacking power and pace tonight , I think it is clear that Toronto gave this one away. Where did the midfield go in the second half ?? On Wednesday night there was confidence and attention to position when TFC was defending a lead. Did losing Tyrone Marshall throw TFC off kilter ? Somehow I doubt it as Olivier Tebily slid in smoothly and looked strong .
That penalty call on Wynne, which lead to the tying goal on Moreno’s pk ,was a borderline blunder, although I am willing to admit that the blunder belonged to both Wynne and the ref. No touch from Marvell = no call from the ref. That was when you felt that the air was going out of the tires.
Then the winning goal was just Sutton giving out a juicy rebound when TFC could least afford it. I guess that was just the karma payback for the Dichio goal back in Toronto. I feel bad pointing out the Sutton goof, he has been such a wall of late.

A cruel collapse, but signs of improvement on the road were there. Twice holding a lead in DC was more than one once dared to hope for.

Players who contributed little tonight were the usual suspects of late, Rohan Ricketts, Maurice Edu, Jeff Cunningham. Will Ricketts lose his starting spot to Jarrod Smith ? I am betting on it.
Can Maurice Edu show some confidence and move forward with the ball, creating space for others and showing some willingness to take his shot ?
Whether it is Guevara or Robinson, there is either an element in the TFC squad that is hampering Edu or he is falling into a deep slump. Maybe the trip to Wembley will shake him out of it.
Cunningham was brought on when there was only a slim hope and a long prayer that Toronto could tie it. The indications that a striker is being sought ...well I have been predicting a good-bye to Cunningham since last October....
I missed the foul that resulted in Lauren Robert being sent off so late in the game. Does this mean that he misses the Montreal game or the LA game ?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

TFC 1 DC United 0 - a true professional win or the mighty have fallen

Toronto FC won a game at BMO tonight the old fashioned, gritty but showing tons of newfound confidence. Score a goal that will manage to avoid the highlight reels and then hang in there and make sure you always have defenders back in numbers. They do not have to be masterpieces to qualify as victories and gain the three points.
TFC continues to rise beyond humble (or huge) expectations in these early stages of this 2008 season. The TFC of 2007 seldom held a lead, absorbing pressure for most of the second half and showing off strategic and tidy defending. Tonight there was not a lot of thrilling offensive play, but there was enough to keep the pressure off from time to time. Jarrod Smith had a late cross that was crying out for someone to convert into a goal and Greg Sutton seemed to surprise himself with a save on Fred that really should have been put away.

So the spring big home stand ended tonight with three victories and two tie. , Add them to the road victory in LA and behold a season point total of 14. True, the combination of catching DC United in a slump and this cagey, no frills defending were the foundation for the victory. TFC was not a smooth machine by any means. Dichio struggles still as he tries to mesh with the midfield. His knockdowns and flick ons are going everywhere but where they should.
Maurice Edu is truly starting to worry the fans. He seems jumpy and lacks vision and his passing touch has been traded in for a series of give aways and "what was thats". I am developing a theory that Edu is spending too much time with Andrea Bargnani, the second year fizzle that haunts the Raptors. If anyone can find a photo of them together, send it and I will share.

Although the confidence may be rising , pitfalls are everywhere. A win on Saturday will be much tougher than tonight. It is hard to put a finger on what is creating this DC United malaise. In terms of goals allowed there was only one moment of distraction that would keep DC's total different from Columbus's on Saturday.
Robert and Ricketts were not offensive factors and Coach Carver showed his tactical sense by replacing them with Smith and Dunivant.
Carl Robinson had one of his everywhere nights. He must have been charming the ref all night long as fouls were called regularly on his challenges

Weather Report I think it was the Champions League Final that was filling heads with images of rain drenched players and slippery conditions as we filed into our seats at BMO tonight. However the rain was persistent throughout the first half without the build-up. When the rain let up, the temperature did not drop much and the winds were very light.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Toronto 0 Columbus 0 - oh for a bulge

Folks have a hard time with gloomy guys. One slowly learns the benefits of positive thinking. So, TFC remains undefeated at home in 2008. This was Toronto’s seventh game, but only the second time they have been held scoreless. Last year’s version of TFC only had 7 ties in a 30 game schedule. This year already they boast two ties. Greg Sutton and the Toronto defense has only allowed one goal in the first four games of the five game home stand. They are undefeated in their last five games now.
Are those enough positives ?? I hope so, because I do not think I can hold back the gripes much longer. It was an entertaining game, although frustrating too as Toronto seemed a few steps or touches away from success on the offensive end. Robert’s second half shot that hit the post was TFC’s closest moment to victory. Then the increasing tension in the last 20 minutes kicked in. The chances of a Toronto goal seemed more and more remote and the fear that Columbus could somehow steal it with a late surprise goal was beginning to haunt me. I get like that. The feared event never happened, final score 0-0, but it was not a joyous end. All of those positives above came to me after hours of hard thinking.

Overall,Toronto appeared to be the stronger team today. Columbus has been the surprise team of MLS 2008 and is leading the East with only one loss. However Toronto did not take a back seat in any category. The TFC improvements since the season opener are considerable. Still they have to know that if you fail to convert your opportunities and half chances into goals, moral victories are the best you are going to get.
Toronto FC needs a striker. The rumours swirl on the online forums that a designated player forward will be the next move for Mo. Today watching the endless Dichio tussle with the many Columbus Crew defenders convinced me that such a move is a wise one. Dichio attracts attention, gets to his fair share of balls and uses his warrior approach well as defenders tug, push and climb up on him. His abilities are there, but more than Dichio is needed to expand the offense.

TFC had most of the ball in the first half but few real chances at goal. In fact the Crew midfield had done their homework, soon recovered and began to shutdown things in the middle and late section of the first half. For a while all the Toronto ball control was in the back four. Repeatedly they were only able to pass to midfielders who had their back to the Crew goal and therefore were forever passing back to the TFC defenders. Greg Sutton was only truly tested once and Tyrone Marshall was there to save the moment when a shot eluded the keeper.
In the early going it seemed that this was going to be the breakout game that Maurice Edu fans have been hoping for. Carl Robinson had another of his superb midfield general performances. He was tough in the tackle, great anticipation and moved the ball well. I am not ready to say that a good Robinson means an invisible Edu because Robinson works hard to make everyone look good

Not so long ago I liked the way Coach Carver would switch his wingers, Ricketts and Robert. Today I was not sure that it was helping much. Ricketts is not establishing an offensive role on this team. His ordinary shot in the second half on his best clear chance is not winning him fans either. Robert clearly wants to get the ball onto his left foot and when he has an opportunity from the right side, he ends up trying to make a lateral move to try to get his left free. The Crew defenders seemed to be ready to shadow him along into the downtown area.
I don’t like to give number ratings for each and every player, but let me play names and observations
Wynne and Brennan - both consistent and improving offensive contributions
G Schelotto - spent the day campaigning for a yellow card, should have found one earlier
Velez and Marshall - steady and dependable
Guevara - ok, but quiet by his recent standards
Jeff Cunningham - runs and wins, but still looking for finish
Kevin Stott - still a favourite MLS ref
Frankie Hejduk - wanted to join the Columbus whine club

Now onto a home and home series against DC United, a team that has been responsible for Toronto’s low point of the season so far - the 4-1 hammering in Washington back in April. Since then DC has been battered about and is in the cellar of the East. These games could give Toronto an opportunity to dig a deeper pit for the team that had the best record in the regular season last year or it could be the DC route out of the darkness. Based on recent form though it could be a pair of ties .....

Monday, May 12, 2008

Beckham at BMO - 2009...2010....

The news that England has called up Beckham for the upcoming friendlies against the USA and Trinidad means no Becks vs TFC at BMO this year. Of course, TFC could still meet them in the Cup in November, but that won't be at BMO. Also he will be involved in the All-Star game vs West Ham here at BMO, but that won't be against TFC. The stars just don't seem to align.
This is not great PR news, whatever your feelings about his fame and talent, there is no doubt that there is a sense of occasion when he steps onto the field.
It is vindication for MLS that Beckham still gets the call for international duty. He's not as washed up as the critics might have had you believe ? On the other hand, the prestige of an England call-up is not what it used to be. It is a team in the audition stage.

I don't think any TFC fans were dreading the match-up, but now the overconfidence factor has been turned up. Enough of this, there are three big games before we get to LA.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Marco Velez, tonight's TFC goal scorer in Puerto Rico uniform 2007 ?

A night of mist and missed offensive prowess. First the good news, a large measure of the missing offense was gone from the visiting team. Except for the free kick goal (Dave van den Berghe 39th minute) that eluded both Sutton and the TFC defending wall, I would have to give top marks to the Toronto defense tonight. In the first half, as New York attacked the south end, you were always aware of the potential power of both Altidore and Angel. They were playing together for the first time this year so I guess rust could be expected. It is a challenge to watch them, especially as Toronto fans we are used to the less than subtle Danny Dichio. With New York, when they come forward, you learn to swivel your eyes from the ball on the wing and seek out their strikers trying to slide into space. Thankfully Marshall and Velez were patrolling that space beautifully. Way back in Columbus, if you had offered me a home record of only one goal against in the first three games in Toronto, I would have been dancing with delight. Well, not that I am much of a dancer. I mean it would have sounded great, but frankly beyond TFC. Yet that is what has happened.
After NY scored their tying goal, the Red Bullers seemed to shrink from the attack and countered a few times. I suppose that this is a positive sign for Toronto's growing strength in the league. After all it is solid strategy to play for a tie on the road. We have to be flattered if that is what NY was trying to do.
But alas, TFC was lost in the mist too. It is a team in transition, don't forget, and offense comes along behind defense in this developing times. There are a heap of players still trying to get to know each other. Brennan and Robert struggled as the strangers they are in the first half. In the second half they seemed to be gaining a greater awareness. Robert showed some moxie and pushed a Red Bull over in the early second half (Hunter Freeman). The yellow card he earned did not not limit his play, but seemed to lift his energy level. A few of horizontal runs were promising after that and he did not show the second half droop that has been his recent style.
Ricketts and Wynne also were improving in the second half, it is starting to happen out there. Yet there was no payoff tonight. Carl Robinson was good enough, but clearly a level down from last game. Maurice Edu stepped up in confidence and ball control, although I do think he should be shooting more often.
I had a horrible vision. The wet conditions seemed to not suit TFC at all. Overall their ball movement was not smooth and it seemed that the ball was being stepped on too often. Are these not the conditions that will be encountered come playoff time ? At least there is time aplenty before that stage.
Now why was this fun tonight ? I think that being there ( on such a cold, rainy night) is an opportunity to declare your devotion. You are a member of the tribe, but you are also displaying what level of discomfort you are happy to ignore as you focus on the fortunes of the team. Yes, it lacks logic and that is truly what being a fan must be. The fool willing to go where and when the sane would never follow.
I hope it is warm and sunny when we play Columbus. TFC will play better in dry conditions. Logic makes a comeback.